Rwanda’s judiciary is caught between a rock and a hard place as trials of extradited genocide suspects fail to take off amid delays and legal intricacies.
Kigali would have wished to see the cases of high profile genocide suspects sent to Rwanda by several countries and the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) smoothly tried and used to convince others to send more cases to the counrty.
Out of five key cases sent to Rwanda in recent years, only that of Charles Bandora, who was extradited from Norway in March 2013, has been successfully tried and convicted. Mr Bandora, a former businessman, was sentenced to 30 years in jail on May 15.
The other cases involving Pastor Jean Uwinkindi, Bernard Munyagishari, Emmanuel Mbarushimana and Leon Mugesera continue to stall with the prosecutors accusing the suspects of employing delaying “tactics.”
The government also continues to spend large amounts of money on litigation services for the suspects.
“It is frustrating in general that the wheel of justice is not turning as many we would have expected... There is nothing we can do except to let the courts do their work,” Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye said.
For many years, Rwanda had been pushing the ICTR and countries hosting genocide suspects to extradite them to Rwanda for trial, succeeding on only a few, with some suspects alleging that they might not be accorded a fair trial.
The transfer of the five however was seen a major score for Rwanda which had for over two decades fought to have them sent home for trial. It was seen as a chance for Rwanda and its judicial institutions to prove themselves.
Minister Busingye however says that despite the delays caused mainly by disagreements on procedure and lawyers, the government is ready to continue incurring the costs of trials, because it committed itself to do so.
“The government offered to meet the litigation costs of the transferred cases in the event the suspects prove to the court to be indigent and that is what we are doing,” Mr Busingye said.
Mr Uwinkindi’s case has already cost the taxpayer over Rwf82 million in legal services, which prompted the government to revisit its dealings with the lawyers, who were accused of ripping off the state.
Uwinkindi’s previous lawyers Gatera Gashabana and Jean Baptiste Niyibizi, who were charging Rwf30,000 per hour forced the government to revisit the legal aid policy, after the duo billed the government up to Rwf160 million, before an understanding was reached to slash the amount by half.
According to Mr Busingye, under the new legal aid policy, a new price ceiling of Rwf15 million per case for lawyers has been put in place while the pro-bono lawyers defending the genocide suspect’s deal with the Bar Association, rather than dealing directly with the government.
Following the disagreement on fees, Gashabana and Niyibizi quit Uwinkindi’s case, prompting the government to get him new lawyers, namely Isaac Hishamunda and Joseph Ngabonziza but Uwinkindi has since rejected them, arguing that he does not trust them and wants the first ones back.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled out the appeal grounds on which Uwinkindi was rejecting the lawyers and ordered the case to continue with the new lawyers representing him. The former clergyman however maintained that he does not want them.
Minister Busingye said that while the matters leading to the delays are being dealt with by the courts, under the new legal aid policy, indigent suspects do not have exclusive rights to pick any lawyer they want especially if his services cannot be afforded by the state.
“Legal aid money is public money which has to be accounted for. Whereas it is a right of indigent suspects to have pro-bono lawyers to represent them, it is important that if they are to get lawyers, their rates should be within what is available in the legal aid pocket,” Mr Busingye said.
“But that said, we knew that these are problems we had to encounter when we requested the transfer of these cases. Yes, they have dragged on, but all this is part of the process,” he added.
However, prosecutors handling the cases insist that some of the suspects such as Leon Mugesera, Uwinkindi and Munyagishari have intentionally deployed delaying tactics as provided for by the law.
Mr Mugesera’s case has been adjourned more than 20 times on grounds such as ill health.
According to the Prosecutor General Richard Muhumuza, while he does not confirm that there is an intention to delay the cases, there are grounds to believe that some of the suspects have not had the will to see through their cases.
“We have had cases where suspects just tell court that they are sick, without any document to prove, and the hearing is adjourned. So now, as prosecutors, we have had to argue that instead it should be the other way round: The doctor should instead be the one to write to the court saying that the suspect is sick and not fit to attend court proceedings,” Mr Muhumuza said.
This argument came up after Mugesera on many occasions claimed to be sick but the doctors would find no problem serious enough to postpone or adjourn a court hearing.
Dr Mugesera’s trial has been going on since September 2012, having been extradited from Canada in January the same year.
Currently Mugesera, who is charged with genocide crimes, inciting divisions and crimes against humanity, is giving his feedback from the cross-examination of each of 23 state witnesses.
Munyagishari’s case stalled over payment disagreements. Similarly Emmanuel Mbarushimana’s case has been delayed by pay hitches for the lawyers.
Mr Mbarushimana, who was extradited from Denmark in July 2014, appeared in court on June 8 without lawyers, and the court ordered that the suspect should be accorded lawyers paid for by the state, and should come with them on the next hearing.
The trials of the four have also been delayed by disagreements on language. Mugesera and Munyagishari previously had requested their cases to be heard in French but prosecutors opposed the request since the suspects were articulate in Kinyarwanda.
After lengthy debates, the court ruled that all cases should be heard in Kinyarwanda.