This is a bit of a landmark moment for Rwanda. Almost eighteen years after the genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has formally transferred its first case to Rwanda for prosecution in Rwanda.
The case of Jean Uwinkindi – “a pastor arrested in Uganda in 2010 and indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity” – will be a major test for Rwanda’s justice system. If they don’t mess up, it’s likely that we’ll see more cases moving from Arusha to Kigali in the near future.
In a prepared statement, ICTR prosecutor Hassan B. Jallow said,
“The referral reflects our acknowledgement of the important advancements Rwanda hasmade in terms of law reform and capacity building within the justicesystem. With the assistance of donors , as well as the ICTR, these measures ensure that the legal system is consistent with international standards. With this renewed confidence in the capacityand robustness of Rwandan justice, we will encourage more cases to bereferred by the ICTR to Rwanda for trial”. link
Previous Rwandan attempts to have the court hand it some of the cases were unsuccessful. Rwanda’s parliament scrapped the death penalty for genocide suspects in 2007, and has introduced a number of legal reforms required by the court.
“Our justice system has come of age,” Rwanda’s Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said. “For us, this is more than just transferring one case.”
“It is opening doors for many other cases to flow in. It is time to bring Rwandan cases home to Rwanda.” link
Many will see the transfer of Uwinkindi as, in a way, legitimizing the Rwandan judicial system from an international, as well as national, perspective. However, some analysts have concerns about the reality on the ground.
Here are some snippets from our conversation, some of which didn’t make it into the finished story,
“There have been a number of legal reforms in Rwanda some of which have been quite positive and have maybe encouraged such a transfer.”
“Despite those positive reforms we still have concerns about the lack of independence of the judiciary and we don’t believe that there are guarantees that Rwanda can provide a fair trial.”
“The government of Rwanda does have the ability to influence what goes on in the courts, especially on political or sensitive cases. The judiciary can’t always act independently, even if there are independently minded judges operating there.”
“In a broad sense, it’s our view that there isn’t a guarantee of a fair trial in Rwanda.”
Photograph taken at the press conference in Lemigo Hotel, Kigali.