Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga has said that Rwanda was not coerced into making the judicial reforms by anyone. He said this yesterday while presenting Rwanda’s position on the transfer of cases from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to Rwandan jurisdiction for trial.
During the proceedings that were held at the ICTR headquarters in Arusha, Ngoga said that the reforms in the judiciary, which started in 2003, were established with the aim of promoting fair trials.
“We reformed our judiciary not because there were external forces forcing us to undergo these reforms. We can’t then go back and act on the contrary,” Ngoga said.
He was reacting to the assertion by a defence attorney Timothy Mwaikusa, that Rwanda may not implement what is imbedded in the reforms. He alleging that accused who would be transferred may not get a fair trial.
The proceedings were hearing an application by ICTR Chief Prosecutor, Hassan Bubacar Jallow, to have former businessman and militia leader Yusuf Munyakazi transferred to Rwanda for trial.
The Rwandan government appeared as Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) in this trial and Ngoga was accompanied by members of the Kigali Bar Association including the chairman, Gatera Gashabana.
Other friends of the court who were present included the Human Rights Watch, an American human rights watchdog, which said that Rwanda’s judiciary lacked maturity to handle the cases, claiming that some defence attorneys were facing persecution. This was however disputed by both Ngoga and the Kigali Bar.
“We have been practicing in Rwanda, defending suspects in various categories including Genocide suspects but no one has ever been persecuted in any way,” said Gashabana, who is also the defence attorney of former Justice Minister, Agnès Ntamabyariro.
Ntamabyariro is on trial in Rwandan courts on Genocide charges. According to Ngoga, the cases of ‘persecution’ were isolated and they occurred for different reasons.
“This cannot be reflected to the entire system,” Ngoga told the Chamber that was presided over by Argentinean, Judge Inés Mónica Weinberg de Roca. The proceedings were broadcast live at the Kigali liaison office of the ICTR in Remera.
Ngoga also dismissed claims that the recent indictments by Spanish and French judges of senior members of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) could call Rwandan impartiality in question.
“Your lord, this honourable chamber does not have the competence to substantiate the criminal liability of the persons accused in the indictments to the crimes alleged to have been committed,” he said.
Other parties who had joined the defendant in his bid to block the transfer were the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association who claimed that Rwanda’s Bar lacks experience to defend the cases. To this, Gashabana said that the available human resource was more than enough to do the particular task.
“We have at least 50 lawyers with experience of over ten years,” said the Bar chairman. All the parties who were present were defending their amicus curiae briefs that they had earlier submitted to the Tanzania-based UN tribunal.
The 14-year old ICTR has been asked by the UN to wind up all its trials by the end of this year and has cases still pending.
Rwanda remains the only country that requested to take over the cases that will remain untried when the tribunal closes shop.
The court adjourned the proceeding after hearing all the submissions but did not announce the date on which the Bench would pronounce itself on this particular application.
Meanwhile, this decision is expected to be binding in other cases that the ICTR prosecutor may want to refer to Rwanda.
Apart from Munyakazi, three other suspects detained by the UN court are in line for transfer to Rwanda, while another one is still at large.