Leon Mugesera goes on trial in Kigali

Leon Mugesera was formally charged with “planning genocide, inciting the masses to participate in genocide and distribution of arms” at Nyamirambo court in Kigali on 2nd February.

The case is adjourned until April 2 to give the defendant time to find a lawyer and prepare his defence.

Mugesera moved to Canada in early 1993. He’s been fighting extradition for the last sixteen years. He was finally deported on 24 January, 2012.

He arrived at the court in a regular police pick-up. There were no escort vehicles and there was no extraordinary security inside or outside the courtroom. He was handcuffed at the front, wore a grey suit, looked in good health and remained placid throughout.

Roughly fifteen journalists awaited his arrival. There were three video cameramen. The muzungu count was a total of three – all journalists.

The benches in the courtroom slowly filled. I counted 80 – 90 people inside the court, plus 4 or 5 police officers. However, there were still seats for more and no-one was left standing squashed in at the back.

The court was very quiet. The proceedings started at 9AM, were in Kinyarwanda and lasted thirty minutes. There were no microphones and speakers making it very difficult for those near the back to hear anything.

This case, and others set to start soon, is a major turning point and a major test for Rwanda’s justice system. A successful, smooth trial could mean more genocide suspects are sent back to Rwanda.

As Carina Tertsakian, of Human Rights Watch, told me recently“we are likely to see a sort of snowball effect”. It’s a question I put to President Paul Kagame at a press conference in Kigali yesterday,

“Long overdue… It should have happened long ago… It’s a very good thing, I’ll go with that.”

“And, of course, it’s in a sense a breakthrough… There have been all sorts of debates with human rights groups, with all kinds of people. People who even don’t want to see some of these genocidaire tried at all. There are all kinds of people who, one way or the other, make things difficult for Rwanda to see justice done…”

“…The justice system in Rwanda has registered very significant progress…”

“…I’ve no doubt that they’ll be handled to everybody’s satisfaction to see that justice is properly done. Then, I’ve no doubt that it eases the possibility of having more cases coming over to Rwanda. For me, which is a good thing as far as seeing justice being done.”

For more on the case of Leon Mugesera, have a look through these story links. And below is a brief slideshow of images from his first appearance in a Rwandan court.