Justice minister Johnston Busingye has commended the contribution of lawyers toward rebuilding of the justice sector but urged them to put in more efforts to take the sector to a higher level.
The minister was yesterday addressing hundreds of members of Rwanda Bar Association (RBA) during celebration of the association’s 20-year anniversary in Kigali.
Busingye, who is also the attorney general, commended the role RBA has played in revamping the justice sector, stressing that before 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi there was no suitable definition of justice and the country was close to zero lawyers, judges, prosecutors and investigators.
“Our justice institutions were known for either incompetence or corruption or both,” he said, adding that addressing the legal challenges in the aftermath of the Genocide was pressing and something needed to be done, and in 1997 Rwanda Bar Association was formed.
Twenty years down the road, he said, a lot has been achieved, thanks to members’ contribution making Rwanda the place to come and study how a bar association can be born and become indispensable.
“We had two choices; give up, sit down and wait for God to do a miracle or refuse to give up, stand up to the challenges and face them head-on. We chose to die on our feet, Rwanda wouldn’t achieve this level of transformation without the role of lawyers, whether in the private or public sector,” Busingye said.
He urged lawyers to serve with diligence and handle clients with care, adding that no society can achieve development without a strong justice system.
The minister said the Government was proud of what RBA had achieved in the past 20 years, stressing that the current percentage of the population that accesses a lawyer is 10 times what it was in 1997.
In addition, Busingye said, the international community and courts accepted to transfer Genocide suspects to Rwanda to be tried by Rwandan courts, basing on findings about the competency and independence of the Rwandan Justice System.
As a result, he said, over 20 Genocide suspects have been transferred to Rwanda over time.
“The Bar Association should invest in ensuring that all members comply with laws and regulations as well as the association’s professional ethics,” he said.
“Strengthen partnership with local and international partners in the legal and economic arena, get more involved in the regional and global integration agenda, invest in specialisation and handle your clients with care,” Busingye said.
He encouraged lawyers to always seek new and innovative ways of doing business as the lawyers’ world is changing fast.
“The service you have rendered to distressed clients, indigents and vulnerable people in our community, is of particular importance. It is says who you are more than any publicity can do,” he said.
Theophile Kazeneza, a member, said that, over the years, the association has had a significant impact and Rwandans have come to understand their rights the importance of lawyers’ services.
“There’s a lot to do, I can’t say that everything is in place. There is lack of specialisation. People don’t also understand that court cases can be submitted online without bringing hard copies to court,” he said.
Julien Gustave Kavaruganda, the president of RBA, said the association remains committed to its mission to provide quality justice that is free, fair and timely.
“We will be focusing on capacity building, and making sure that lawyers are specialised. We don’t want one lawyer practicing as an individual, we want law firms and we want people to specialise and be able to work together, and to provide the best service as possible,” he said.
“That is our focus, we want to have specialised lawyer that meet regional and international standards.”
The association was formed in 1997 with 37 members, including two women, but now has 1,200 members with over 300 women, according to the officials.