Karugarama says UN court rubbishing own accomplishments
The Government of Rwanda has expressed shock and disappointment at another decision by an ICTR trial chamber to block the transfer of a Genocide case to Kigali, the second such verdict in just a week.
The Tanzania-based UN court’s Trial Chamber I on Friday denied the prosecution’s request to transfer the case of Gaspard Kanyarukiga to Rwanda, just days after another decision by an ICTR chamber rejected attempts to transfer another Genocide case involving Yusuf Munyakazi.
“That decision is disturbing; it’s worrying and is not based on facts on the ground and in the applicable law,” Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama told The New Times yesterday.
While the tribunal observed that Rwanda had made “notable progress in improving its judicial system,” it doubted that Kanyarukiga will receive a fair trial if transferred, with particular concerns that he “would not be able to call witnesses residing outside Rwanda to the extent and in a manner which will ensure a fair trial.”
The court also said that there was a risk that Kanyarukiga, if convicted to life imprisonment in Kigali, “may risk solitary confinement due to unclear legal provisions in Rwanda.”
However, Karugarama strongly fired back at the court on both arguments, stating that Rwanda has for many years facilitated both the prosecution and defence witnesses to travel to Arusha.
“Every other day, we send witnesses to Arusha for both the prosecution and the defence. That has been going on for long, and most of them are facilitated by the Government of Rwanda. What is so special about Munyakazi or Kanyarukiga for that spirit to change?” asked Karugarama, who also doubles as the country’s Attorney General.
He dismissed claims that both Kanyarukiga and Munyakazi risked being put in solitary rooms in case they got imprisonment sentences – as the tribunal has alleged in both cases – stating that the UN tribunal itself drafted a “special law” that was later passed by the Rwandan Parliament under which such transferred cases would be tried.
“That is misleading; completely misleading and very unfortunate because ICTR and Rwanda negotiated a special organic law which was actually prepared by ICTR experts with our input. That law clearly spells out conditions under which suspects transferred from ICTR and from any jurisdiction outside Rwanda will be subjected to,” the minister explained.
“It provides that they will be subjected to a special law with special guarantees; and particularly deals with issues of witnesses and defence. The entire trials would be taking place in Rwanda but under similar conditions as if they were actually taking place in Arusha,” he added.
“Why should the same court sit around and quote laws that do not exist? Under the same law, the ICTR retains supervisory and oversight powers over those trials. It provides that ICTR can take over those cases if it appears that the Rwandan judiciary is not meeting those standards,” continued Karugarama.
He noted that Rwanda has for the past years been handling Genocide cases both in the ordinary courts as well as Gacaca, “and in both situations witnesses testify freely.”
Under the same law, which came into force in March 2007, Rwanda also abolished the death penalty on such transferees, although capital punishment was later on deleted from the country’s books altogether.
Solitary confinement is commonly used as an extra-punishment to unruly and continuously violent criminals, and people who have committed extremely horrendous crimes.
It is practiced in many countries, and usually curtails a prisoner from accessing certain benefits otherwise enjoyed by ordinary inmates.
In Rwanda, people who face it are mostly recidivists (those who repeat the same crimes).
Karugarama also laughed off claims by the court that the Rwandan judiciary lacked capacity to handle the cases. He said that the ICTR had spent over two years training Rwandan judges and prosecutors, adding that the decisions undermined the tribunal’s own contribution in building that capacity in Rwanda.
“Under the ICTR completion strategy, capacity building programmes for our judicial personnel have been running in Rwanda for over two years now. We have been sending our people to Arusha almost every week. Do they now mean that all their support was nothing, or that Rwandans are stupid to grasp what they were taught?” Karugarama asked.
Born in 1945, Gaspard Kanyarukiga was a businessman in Kigali and Kibuye in 1994. He was arrested in South Africa in July 2004 and is accused of having committed Genocide in the former Kivumu Commune in Kibuye (now Karongi District). He faces counts of genocide, or in the alternative complicity in genocide, and extermination as a crime against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty.
Kanyarukiga and Munyakazi – another businessman – are among four Genocide suspects whose cases the ICTR Prosecutor had asked the tribunal to transfer to Rwanda ahead of its December 2008 deadline.
“We hope the Prosecution will appeal and hope that, based on the facts on the ground and the law applicable, the appeals chamber will overturn that decision,” Karugarama said of the Kanyarukiga case. The Prosecution is also expected to appeal the Munyakazi case.