The long-awaited hearing to determine whether five Rwandans in custody in the UK can be extradited to face charges over their role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi began Monday at Westminster Magistrates Court.
The development follows the rearrest, last May, of the suspects accused of playing a key role in the Genocide.
The suspects are three former mayors in present day Southern Province; Charles Munyaneza (Kinyamakara commune), Emmanuel Nteziryayo (Mudasomwa commune), and Celestin Ugirashebuja (Kigoma commune).
The others are the former head of the National Population Office, Dr Vincent Bajinya–who now goes by the name Dr Vincent Brown–and Celestin Mutabaruka, who headed Crete Zaire Nil project.
Apart from Mutabaruka, until now a pastor of a Pentecostal church in the South-East England county of Kent, the other four evaded justice for years because of “loopholes in the British legal system” after their arrest in 2007 before being released two years later.
Prosecutor-General Richard Muhumuza yesterday told The New Times that although his office is not inclined to comment much on the case, they were hoping for a favourable outcome.
Muhumuza said they were currently involved in the process of identifying countries in which people accused of genocide and other crimes are living.
“Once identified, we work closely with authorities in those countries during extradition proceedings and trials as appropriate. The NPPA has cooperated and continues to cooperate with the UK Crown Prosecution Service and defence teams in the proceedings involving fugitives,” he said.
Previous refusals by the British legal system to send the suspects to Rwanda for trial were based on past similarly negative responses by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to send suspects to Rwanda.
However, the ICTR, the European Court of Human and People’s Rights, as well as other jurisdictions have since indicated that the Rwandan legal system is competent to try cases of international nature and transferred suspects to Kigali.
Court hears of cruel slaughter
Ibuka president Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu has for long urged countries to move in on such Genocide fugitives and set a good example.
“Let this 20th commemoration of the Genocide continue to encourage various countries to put more effort in what they were not able to do in two decades in terms of pursuing Genocide suspects. Even those without appropriate legal frameworks should establish them fast. We appreciate the steps being taken, but the momentum should be stepped up,” he said.
The Westminster court on Monday heard that Mutabaruka led Interahamwe militia, armed with spears and machetes, who hacked Tutsis to death. He was arrested in Kent last year.
Bajinya (aka Brown), Munyaneza, Ugirashebuja and Nteziryayo won a high court battle in 2008 against extradition to Rwanda after judges ruled that there was “a real risk they would suffer a flagrant denial of justice.”
This was reportedly the first time an English court had blocked an extradition request from a foreign government on the grounds that it would violate Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards the right to a fair trial.
The court, however, has heard how laws in Rwanda have been amended to allow for acceptable international standards for a fair trial.
Reports indicate that, James Lewis QC, representing Rwanda, read witness statements to the court from Genocide survivors of the killing in a church where a milita led by Mutabaruka used spears and machetes on refugees and gouged their eyes out.
“We were not afraid of the gunshots because we would rather be killed by guns than machetes,” a witness said.
Another said: “A hospital received injured Tutsis; they continued to come in big numbers which amounted to 20,000 in the end. Around 15,000 were massacred there.”
The court also heard statements from militiamen who teamed up with Mutabaruka and his men to kill.
During an attack on the church, Mutabaruka instructed the militia to surround the walls so the Tutsi could not escape and helped kill 20,000 refugees, the court heard.
In the 2007 extradition hearing, the court heard that Dr Bajinya [Brown], had been part of the “inner circle” [Akazu] of then president Juvenal Habyarimana, but later became a leader of a militia that he ordered to cut a suspected Tutsi “into pieces so that he would not recover.”