Amnesty International remarks on Rwanda judiciary are armchair research at its worst

Notwithstanding the contribution of Amnesty International (AI) to the development of democracy the world over, the renowned London-based human rights body, according to many independent observers here, has got many points on Rwanda wrong.

Notwithstanding the contribution of Amnesty International (AI) to the development of democracy the world over, the renowned London-based human rights body, according to many independent observers here, has got many points on Rwanda wrong.

Going by its recent statement where AI urged governments not to transfer Genocide fugitives to Rwanda for trial, I have a strong conviction that its credibility is arguably at stake if it continues to issue baseless and erroneous reports similar to this one.

First, AI never made any attempts to articulate in a serious manner what it claims to be ‘serious concerns’ in regard to fairness and impartiality.

Secondly, AI never substantiated its statement to convince the international community why they should not extradite Genocide fugitives.

Therefore, the blanket statement, which level-headed people have no option but to pour scorn onto, has only earned AI shame.

If the human rights watchdog had cared to do research on the current situation of the Rwandan justice system, its findings would have been different from the sweeping and jumbled statements it produced.

As a development-minded journalist and a peace lover, I belong to a school of thought which bases assertions on empirical data.

For sure, to claim that there are serious concerns about Rwanda’s ability to investigate and prosecute crimes related to the 1994 Genocide just makes AI a laughing stock to the people who have been analytically following events as they evolve, particularly in the country’s justice system.

As expected, there is considerable debate by all peace lovers as to whether AI’s statement was in good faith. That Rwanda has registered immense successes in the area of justice in the last 13 years can no longer be faulted.

I sought comments from a few independent thinkers in the country on AI’s recent comments on the justice system in the country.

Interestingly, several neutral analysts poured venom on the report. One person described it as a ‘malicious and unfounded report’, while another one was not surprised, saying people had got accustomed to such reports.

On April 24, 2000, Amnesty International published a report (47/010/2000) titled “The troubled course of justice”, that categorically exaggerated the situation of prisons in Rwanda – citing inhuman conditions.

Mr Gaspard Safari, the president of Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) said they are ‘playing joker.’ He said that when one vets reports by the same watchdog right from the 1994 Genocide, they will find great similarity in all of them.

“This is not the first alarming report on Rwanda,” Safari said. “All the previous reports on Rwanda are significantly similar to the most recent report.”

He added: “An element of fact distortion is visible in all their unsubstantiated reports – I don’t know why; maybe somebody else can answer that.”

Safari feels there is urgent need for the other human rights groups and the international community in general to find out why Amnesty International deliberately comes up with such misleading reports before they treat them as gospel truth.

“People need to find out why this trend persists,” he observed.

Since the report was published, I put a foot into research to establish Rwanda’s justice system for the world to compare notes before it swallows AI’s poison.

True, the Rwandan judiciary has been going through a period of comprehensive reforms of a wide dimension since 2004.

In a bid to ensure justice prevails in the country, it was deemed necessary to have judicial reforms high on the agenda, where competence of the personnel was a major criterion. 

Subsequently, the size of judicial personnel was reduced and the resultant reduction in the number of lower courts was registered, according to the statistics obtained from the country’s Supreme Court.

After this landmark exercise in terms of structural composition, the Rwandan justice systems comprises; The Supreme Court (the highest court), The High Court of the Republic with headquarters in Kigali, The Higher Instance Courts (12 of them upcountry) and The Lower Instance Courts (60 in total).

There are 4 chambers attached to The High Court – located in the four rural provinces of Rwanda; at Rusizi (Western Province), Nyanza (Southern Province), Rwamagana (Eastern Province) and Musanze (Northern Province).

Contrary to the Genocide regime, the June 4, 2003 people’s Constitution draws a clear line between the Judiciary and the Executive.

The former enjoys administrative and financial autonomy, a sharp contrast to the justice system that existed before the Genocide, where the regime legitimized a deliberate fusion of the Judiciary and the Executive.

Aligned to national goals of establishing and consolidating social justice and rule of law as entrenched in the Constitution, the mission of the judiciary is to establish and facilitate an effective and efficient mechanism capable of functioning as an adjudicating authority that instantly administers justice and related services to Rwandans.

To this effect, the judiciary recognizes that peace and security, rule of law, eradication of the culture of impunity, and confidence in the government are fundamental to sustained poverty reduction.

It goes without mention that the administration of courts has been highly enthusiastic in creating a conducive atmosphere that promotes confidence in both local and foreign investors.

Following such reforms, the Rwandan judiciary has recorded immense achievements, which both the local and international communities bear witness to, obviously with the exception of people who specialise in doing arm chair research and who subscribe to the same school of thought with Amnesty International.

Owing to the growing confidence in the justice system prevailing in the country, the Supreme Court rendered 366 cases in 2006 compared to 73 in 2002, while the 2006 annual report on activities of courts shows 33,239 cases against 11,737 in 2003.

And, in the first two semesters of 2007, a total of 26,102 cases were rendered against 25, 807 cases rendered in the first two semesters of 2005. Undeniably, the statistics depict a positive trend.

On the judiciary’s competence, the Rwandan judiciary constitutes of highly qualified personnel and boasts of a 559-strong staff contingent, among whom are trained international experts on criminal law. The current statistics show an upward trend – from 5 per cent (2004) to over 90 per cent.

In this regard the people of Rwanda have a high regard for the Canadian experts, Sierra Leon’s Prosecutor General formerly working with ICTR and other experts from Yugoslavia.

In a bid to increase capacity, the staff consistently undergo relevant training in both substantive and procedural laws, information technology and study visits among others.

A departure from the past dictatorial regimes is the fact that the judges, registrars and support staff are recruited through an independent and transparent process, while the appointment of the Supreme Court judges is done with the approval of the Senate, an independent national legislative body.

It is a shame that the AI even failed to take into account the report of the former ICTR prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow, that he made following his recent visit to the detention centres and prisons in Rwanda.

He approved, after thorough inspection, all the detention centres in the country as satisfying international standards. 

The writer is an independent analyst on social and political issues in the East African region and Africa. He is based in Kigali- Rwanda.

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