Last week’s deportation to Rwanda of Léon Mugesera coincided with visits by prosecution teams from Norway, Denmark, US and France in what have now become all too familiar trips ostensibly aimed at gathering more evidence with regard to the involvement in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, of certain individuals holed up in their countries.
Mugesera also arrived just hours after the Rwanda Public Prosecution Authority (RPPA) received the file of a Genocide suspect and former Pentecostal pastor, Jean Uwinkindi, from the chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Both the deportation and handover of the first ICTR case to Rwanda were a culmination of years of hard work and tested patience of Kigali with regard to its capacity and willingness to hold fair and transparent trials for Genocide fugitives/suspects.
After losing the first attempt to secure the transfer of ICTR-held suspects, Kigali saw all its extradition requests rejected by particularly European jurisdictions, with courts pointing at the UN tribunal’s reluctance to hand over suspects to Rwanda as proof the country’s judiciary was not
independent enough to guarantee fair trial. The ICTR had raised questions on issues such as witness protection and fears for solitary confinement, which effectively buoyed the arguments of defence attorneys in extradition/deportation cases in the UK, France and Canada, with all the rulings mirroring the ICTR position.
In private, Rwandan officials have conceded that the ICTR’s rejection of the country’s request for transfer of cases to Rwanda and subsequent refusal by Western jurisdictions had frustrated and
demoralized many in Kigali, who thought they had done everything possible to assure the international community of their commitment to dispensing impartial justice, and not seeking vengeance. “Some
officials had even started to suggest that perhaps we break off cooperation with outside jurisdictions and concentrate on domestic cases,” a well placed official told me last week. But many, he added,
refused to give up, and championed the process to address “whatever lingering doubts, including enacting laws that provide sufficient guarantees for fair, open and impartial trials.” He added: “At the
same time, we kept making our case, showcasing the positive evolution in our judicial system, including the scrapping of the death sentence and solitary confinement as well as enacting laws that provide
adequate guarantees for the
safety of both the defence attorneys and witnesses.”
These adjustments were easy to adopt in the country’s legal system largely because, from the beginning, the post-Genocide administration had shown it was more interested in restorative, reconciliatory
justice, thus the reintroduction of Gacaca system– whose main objectives were to help deliver justice, ascertain the truth and reconcile the people of Rwanda. So far, Gacaca has prosecuted more than 1.2 million cases, with the majority of convicts serving half their sentences – including executing activities that are of public interest under the TIG alternative sentence arrangement. Most of the convicts have completed their sentences and reintegrated in their communities, where they co-exist and work together with Genocide survivors. Yet these initiatives were not conceived and implemented to
convince the world about Kigali’s goodwill to responsibly manage the post-Genocide challenges; it was done in the interest of the people of Rwanda, as a deliberate departure from the institutionalized
injustices at the hand
s of the former divisive regimes. But the world looked blinded to the truth.
Nonetheless, the international community has finally started to appreciate Rwanda’s commitment and capacity to deliver unbiased judgments. In June, 2011, the ICTR made a U-turn, ruling in favour of
the prosecution’s request to transfer the first case to Kigali, a decision that was upheld by an appeals chamber in December. During the same year, Swedish courts approved the extradition of Sylvere
Ahorugeze, the former head of the Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority, to Rwanda, a decision that was upheld twice by juries at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), with the final delivered in November.
In 2011, the US returned to Rwanda two Genocide fugitives, Jean-Marie Vianney Mudahinyuka and Marie-Claire Mukeshimana. And now Mugesera is in the country after losing a 15-year legal battle against deportation.
All of a sudden, the world is increasingly committing to end impunity with regard to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. This has emboldened Kigali, which is now stepping up efforts not just to see Genocide fugitives prosecuted by anybody, but extradited to Rwanda to stand trial. Rwanda’s Prosecutor General told The New Times: “No more trials abroad, they must bring them all here.” That is the message
he’s giving all the countries hosting Genocide fugitives, including Belgium, which was preparing to begin trail of six suspects.
Last Thursday, Ngoga facilitated Mugesera to call his family and lawyers back in Canada, and the former MRND stalwart and scholar was free to deviate into personal matters while speaking with his wife and
children during the long telephone call. He has now asked the Prosecution to give him a month or two to get a lawyer of his choice, a request Ngoga and co. are willing to grant, although they will need
him to take up a stand-in attorney during the initial court appearance this week. The Prosecution is expected to request the High Court to detain Mugesera temporarily, pending his readiness for substantive hearing. Recall this is the guy who swore before Canadian courts that
he would be summarily executed upon arrival in Rwanda!
Both the ICTR’s decision to transfer Uwinkindi to Kigali and Mugesera’s deportation provide a good opportunity for Ngoga and co. to secure more extraditions. If the principle of precedence in judiciary
is anything to go by, then these decisions open the door for more extraditions – the same way the initial ICTR decision was used as basis to reject extradition requests. Yes, Kigali should stick to its guns and
insist that Genocide suspects are indeed brought home.