The Trial Chamber of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) has dismissed a petition by Genocide suspect Jean Uwinkindi to cancel his referral to Rwanda.
Uwinkindi, who was arrested in 2010 and transferred to Rwanda in April 2012, had petitioned the Tanzanian-based UN tribunal claiming the progress of his case did not reflect tenets of fair trial, a petition that was flatly rejected Thursday by the chamber.
In the ruling, the trial chamber said that Rwandan justice system has the necessary guarantees to ensure a fair trial in international criminal cases.
According to the tribunal, the conditions under which Uwinkindi’s case was to be tried in Rwanda were still being followed and there was no need to revoke the referral order.
“In reaching this conclusion, the Trial Chamber is cognizant of the stage of the proceedings against Uwinkindi in Rwanda, the determination by the High Court that it is in the interests of justice that Uwinkindi be represented by counsel,” reads part of the ruling.
The court also observed that the judicial system in Rwanda already provided optimum avenues for Uwinkindi to appeal against any decision in any event he is not happy with the decision.
The chamber also rejected the suspect’s claims of lack of competent counsel, for which the Government of Rwanda has already spent millions of francs not only to observe the suspect’s rights but also to abide by referral agreements.
“The Ministry of Justice has made commendable efforts to provide a legal and policy framework to ensure the provision of legal aid where necessary in all cases conducted in Rwanda,” the ruling reads in part.
“The Rwanda Bar Association has put in place a roster of over 60 qualified lawyers to represent indigent persons in international crime cases which is more than sufficient for Uwinkindi or any other accused person to choose from.”
Reacting to the ruling, Richard Muhumuza, the prosecutor-general, told Saturday Times that from the onset, they had been expecting the ruling, given the trust in the country’s judicial system.
“It was kind of an obstruction to the case because Uwinkindi and his team were trying their level best to drag the actual case by applying delaying tactics; we were expecting the ruling in our favour,” he said.
“This should equally ring a bell to other jurisdictions across the world that Rwanda’s judicial system ensures and fulfills all fair trial standards.”
Uwinkindi was the first suspect to be transferred to Rwanda by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda under the court’s completion mechanism, before the tribunal was replaced by the mechanism.
Since the beginning of his trial in 2012, the government has paid at least Rwf82 million of legal services offered to Uwinkindi’s case.
Last April, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Uwinkindi to retain two of his lawyers; Gatera Gashabana and Jean Baptiste Niyibizi, whom officials from the Ministry of Justice had said were dragging the case to fleece more money from government.
The government has since provided the accused with two new lawyers, Joseph Ngabonziza and Isaac Hishamunda, but these were rejected by the former clergyman saying they were not competent to grasp what he called complexities in his case.
Uwinkindi, a former pastor of the Kayenzi Pentecostal Church in Nyamata Sector, was charged before the ICTR with genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.
He was arrested in Uganda on June 30, 2010, and transferred to the ICTR on July 2, 2010. In April 2012, the Tanzanian-based UN tribunal sent Uwinkindi to Rwanda to stand trial.
Prosecution accuses Uwinkindi of participating in the killings of the Tutsi who had sought refuge at Kayenzi Pentecostal Church, Kanzenze commune, now Bugesera District, where he had been a pastor for over a decade.
Prosecution also says the former priest also helped the Interahamwe militia to locate and kill those who had escaped the slaughter at the church and were hiding in the bushes.