Monday, February 27, 2012

Has Rwanda Restored An Independent Judiciary?

Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome  wrote february 24:
"Rwanda’s contributions to UN peace-keeping missions in Darfur and the long-term deployment of police contingents in Haiti have earned Rwanda the respect of fellow AU member countries. Rwanda was given provisional clearance to step into a two-year term, from January 2013 onwards, of the UN Security Council."
In a blogpost about this diplomatic success,  he writes:
 "Rwanda has restored an independent judiciary" 
Let's examine how true this statement really is. In july 2008 Alison des Forges wrote:
“We identified serious problems in such areas as judicial independence, the right to present a defense, and the right to equal access to justice for all. It’s still the case that defendants in Rwanda may be denied their right to a fair trial.”
July 27 2010 the Dutch representative at the ECHR writes (posted on RNW website september 27 2011):
"Rwanda has, “over the years (made) substantial and fundamental progress in furthering the rule of law’’. Since the mass killings of 1994, Rwanda has – through Dutch financial support – built new court houses and the “state-of-the-art-prison “Mpanga”, and has trained judges. Among the “most relevant developments’’ are the abolition of the death penalty and of life imprisonment in isolation." 
The judgment by the ECHR october 27 2011 in the extradition case case of Ahorugeze v Sweden  (reported on RNW website  november 7 2011) is noteworthy and a milestone in this regard. An ECHR press release, october 27 2011, reads :
 "Finally, the ICTR had decided, for the first time in June 2011, to transfer an indicted genocide suspect - Uwinkindi - for trial in Rwanda. It had found that the issues, on the basis of which it had refused to transfer genocide suspects to Rwanda in 2008, had been resolved to a degree which made it confident that the accused would receive a fair trial in Rwanda in line with internatonal human rights standards."
However, the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) has, in two rulings last week, delayed the transfer of Genocide suspect Jean Uwinkindi to Rwanda, citing outstanding monitoring and logistical issues. As The New Times writes:
The ICTR Appeals Chamber on Thursday (february 23 2012) and yesterday (february 24 2012) made two separate rulings putting on hold the transfer of Uwinkindi to Rwanda until it was satisfied the monitoring mechanism the government has to put in place to ensure that he receives a fair trial.
According to the Tribunal's spokesman, Rolland Amoussouga, the Appeals chamber had made two decisions; one being not to consider the ICTR Prosecution's request to dismiss Uwinkindi's application to review the December 16 decision to refer him to Rwanda.
And the second was to look into the issues of the monitoring of the case as well as the availability of the resources required to effect the referral.
"In light of the precedence of the case and the competence of the Tribunal, it was decided that the transfer be suspended until such a time when the president of the tribunal is satisfied with the monitoring mechanisms in place," Amoussouga told The New Times by phone from Arusha. 
"Uwinkindi will be transferred to Rwanda but not before all these processes are reviewed and a monitoring committee is established".
These two rulings will no doubt impact future extradition to Rwanda from Europe, keep in mind what  Jurgen Schurr, legal officer with REDRESS, reports in his november 7 2011 article on the ECHR ruling in the Ahorugeze case:
"It is therefore important to bear in mind that the ECHR has decided solely on the case of Ahorugeze. Future cases, where suspects request the ECHR to review a positive extradition request may have a different outcome, including where judges are not convinced that Rwandan authorities have the capacity to bring extradited suspects to trial within a reasonable time."
The Rwandan prosecutor Martin Ngoga, who played an important role in spearheading the character-assassination campaign against Lazare Kobagaya and others, states in a reaction to being dismayed by further delay of the transfer:
"Rwanda feels as if it is being used as an "experimental piece" by the ICTR."We are uncomfortable with this development; the over-emphasis of monitoring and issues about funding. It calls for so much resilience for us to entertain it as a country.It is as if we are a piece of experimental sample. Nevertheless, we have come a long way and have braved much more than this. We remain ready until they are. He doesn't think that the ICTR is backtracking on its decision to transfer Uwinkindi to Rwanda, but the Prosecution is not aware of what is going on, specifically about budgetary issues. "
Rwanda has in the past, helped by Pierre Prosper and others, played games with the ICTR, are the tables turning? Is the outcome of the Lazare Kobagaya case, may  31 2011, finally sinking in? A case which has put the spotlight on how Rwanda's current RPF regime uses false allegations against Rwandans abroad for propaganda- and intimidation purposes. As Kandy Kobagaya said August 28 2011:
"This begs a question of how such a tiny country of Rwanda can have so much influence to such as large country as the United States ... that the U.S. government can drag an innocent man through that kind of mud,”
The Lazare Kobagaya case was a crucial test of Rwanda's judicial independence at which it failed miserably. In the words ofRwanda's prosecutor general Martin Ngoga: "it was a huge setback". The implications of the outcome for evaluation of Rwanda's judicial independence are quite straightforward as  one of Kobagaya's Lawyers, Kurt Kerns, succinctly summarized in August 2011:
 "So often now, at least right now in Rwanda, so many of the accusations coming out of that country are sadly, politically based."
The outcome of the Kobagaya case was indeed a huge setback in a propaganda and intimidation effort of Rwandans abroad orchestrated by Rwanda's prosecutor general. The case played a central role in Rwanda's propaganda campaing inside the US during the election rigging process. If such a thing would have occured in the Netherlands, Martin Ngoga would have been asked to reconsider his position or step down either immediately or temporarily pending a thorough investigation. Also,  the Dutch parliament would have probably started a parliamentary inquiry. In light of these developments claiming that "Rwanda has restored an independent judiciary" is either setting the bar too low or simply ignoring major cases and rulings.

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