The first ever genocide suspect to be transferred by the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) to Rwanda arrived in Kigali Thursday evening.
The Appeals Chamber of the Arusha-based ICTR court threw out a last-ditch defence motion to stay the transfer of Pastor Jean Uwinkindi to Rwanda for trial.
Uwinkindi arrived in Kigali in accordance with an order of the ICTR President. Clad in army green suit, the calm clergyman arrived at Kigali International Airport aboard a RwandAir flight flanked by ICTR officials who included the spokesperson of the ICTR Rolland Amoussouga.
Upon arrival, he was handed over to prosecutors and security officials.
According to the spokesperson of Prosecution Alain Mukuralinda, Mr Uwinkindi will be held in a “special holding place” for 48 hours for questioning before he appears in court.
Mr Uwinkindi’s transfer was approved by the ICTR trial court in June 2011 and confirmed by the Appeals Court in December.
In a last ditch attempt, Mr Uwinkindi filed an urgent motion Tuesday seeking to stay the transfer, citing the recent developments in the case of Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire in the High Court in Kigali to show that he would not get a fair trial.
The tribunal’s Appeals Chamber President Theodor Meron rejected the motion, ruling that Uwinkindi's case would be supervised by ICTR and would benefit from additional guarantees. The Judge also pointed out that the transfer could be revoked in case of violation of the rights of the defence.
The tribunal has also appointed two people to act as temporary monitors of Mr Uwinkindi's prison conditions and trial procedures in Rwanda, pending conclusion of negotiations between the ICTR and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR).
It is the ACHPR, according to the transfer decision, that is to act as monitor on behalf of the Tribunal.
Speaking shortly after the transfer, the Rwandan Prosecution Spokesperson said that the transfer is a milestone for the Rwandan Judiciary, considering that the ICTR has also approved the transfer of two other suspects still on the run to Rwanda, if captured.
“To us this reflects the confidence the International Community has in our courts by trusting us with suspects. It is a sign that unlike in the past, there is a strong belief that a suspect can get a fair trial in Rwanda,” Ms Mukuralinda said at the airport.
The ICTR has also ruled that Charles Sikubwabo and Fulgence Kayishema will be immediately transferred to Rwanda to face trial once arrested.
The ICTR Prosecutor Boubacar Jallow, delivered Uwinkindi’s dossier to his Rwandan counterpart in January, describing it as a ‘historical moment’ that will set a new precedence in dealing with impunity globally.
Over the last 18 years, Rwanda has applied to have some of the cases of the tribunal expected to close shop in 2014, to Kigali but with little success.
However, according to Mukuralinda, the recent decisions should open doors for more transfers, not only from ICTR but also other countries holding suspects.
It is the second high profile transfer of a genocide suspect to take place since the beginning of this year. Léon Mugesera was deported from Canada in January.
Jean Uwinkindi, a former Pentecostal pastor, was arrested in Uganda in June 2010 on counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.
He is alleged to have led several groups of armed killers targeting Tutsi civilians in multiple attacks that spanned the 100 days of the Genocide between April and July 1994.
Closely aligned with the extremist wing of the MRND party, Uwinkindi is alleged to have sought the assistance of gendarmes within the ex-FAR to exterminate the local Tutsi population. After he fled in July 1994, 2,000 corpses were discovered near his church.