A rare victory in Luxemburg

Let me start by offering a warm ‘karibu’ to Mr. Pierre-Celestin Rwigema, upon his return after his eleven years in exile. Personally, I did not think he had to apologise for his pronouncements in the past [freedom of expression] but the ex-Premier clearly felt that he had to make amends perhaps to make up with anyone holding onto an 11-year grudge.
Oscar Kabbatende
Oscar Kabbatende

Let me start by offering a warm ‘karibu’ to Mr. Pierre-Celestin Rwigema, upon his return after his eleven years in exile. Personally, I did not think he had to apologise for his pronouncements in the past [freedom of expression] but the ex-Premier clearly felt that he had to make amends perhaps to make up with anyone holding onto an 11-year grudge.

I’m not sure who these may be as he had all but disappeared from public discourse.  Beyond any happy references to reconciliation and how far the country has come since he fled, I think it reaffirms the simple right of return for any Rwandan living outside of the country.

It may sound simple but once upon a time many Rwandans could not count on this right. Not because of their politics or actions while in public service but because of the accident of their birth. Once upon a time it was quite possible to lose the right to return by being born outside of Rwanda to exiled parents.

Unlike Mr. Rwigema, a former head of the Civil Aviation Authority has spent the last year fighting tooth and nail to avoid extradition. Mr. Sylvere Ahorugeze was allegedly the head honcho of the local interahamwe in Gikondo with all that this position entailed [just think of a genocidal Conseiller and you’ll get the idea].

Mr. Ahorugeze lived in Denmark without any worries of arrest until the fateful day that he crossed into Sweden. Acting on information from the Rwandan Embassy in Stockholm, he was arrested by the Swedish Police in July of 2008 and held pending the outcome of his extradition hearings.

A year later, acting on the recommendation of the Swedish Supreme Court, the Government of Sweden decided to extradite Mr. Ahorugeze to Rwanda.

He must have had a good legal team because within a few days he had appealed the decision and obtained a stay on his extradition from the European Court of Human Rights in Luxemburg.

As usual, the same false complaints about Rwanda’s Judicial System were presented before the Court – Mr. Ahorugeze feared mistreatment and torture, prison conditions were inhuman and that he could not expect to receive a fair trial.

He even threw in a pinch of ‘reverse-Pinochet’ [who used poor health as grounds to get sent back to Chile and avoid trial in Spain] claiming that he would be unable to get heart surgery although there was no medical proof that he would require one in the near future. Pretty standard stuff so far, we’ve watched this movie several times before.

Except that this time, it came with a surprise ending. The Court ruled that Sweden would not be in violation of the Convention if it extradited Mr. Ahorugeze citing acceptable detention conditions as well as an impartial and independent judiciary.

Mr. Ahorugeze still has the option of referring the case to the Grand Chamber of the Court but it will be an uphill task for him to succeed after this.

While, Rwanda’s judiciary was getting a stamp of approval from the European Court of Human Rights over in Denmark the movie we are all used to was playing. On the same day that a decision on the Ahorugeze v. Sweden case was made, the Prosecutor General, Mr. Martin Ngoga, was speaking out against another judicial decision in Denmark. A Court in Copenhagen used the principle of non-retroactivity [laws are not applicable to any cases prior to enactment] to rule that an unnamed Rwandan suspect will be tried on charges of ‘subsidiary murder’ rather than genocide [All laws punishing genocide were enacted after 1994].

Last week turned up one partial victory for the seekers of justice and one setback. Just another day in international justice where victories are surprising and easily overturned while reverses are generally expected. At the very least, law students will have more material for their dissertations.

okabatende@gmail.com

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