How fit are Rwanda’s courts?
At the same time that Ingabire and even her lawyer are boycotting her trial and accusing the judge of bias, the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR) is going ahead with its plan to transfer its first war crimes suspect to Rwanda’s courts: Pastor Jean Uwinkindi, charged with genocide, extermination and crimes against humanity during the 1994 genocide, will be sent to Kigali later this week.
ICTR judges had previously kept Uwikindi in Arusha, saying they couldn’t send him until “a suitable monitoring mechanism is established to oversee his trial." In ruling that Uwikindi could be returned, Court President Judge Khalida Rachid Khan had instructed the registry to “urgently undertake discussions and negotiations” to put such a monitoring system in place. While ultimately the ACHPR (African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights) will monitor the domestic trials, for now, an interim monitor is doing the job.
Courts worldwide including those in Canada, Norway, Sweden and even the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) are also ruling that it is safe to send Rwandans back home for fair trials.
Prosecuted Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza (UDF) is boycotting all further hearings of the trial in which she is accused of divisionism and aiding and abetting terrorism. Her defence complains of heavy witness intimidation. Radio Netherlands Worldwide posed a few questions to her British lawyer, Iain Edwards.
Mr. Edwards, what intimidation are you talking about?
“Last Wednesday, our witness Colonel Michel Habimana gave evidence that significantly undermined a large portion of the prosecution case against Victoire Ingabire. This seems to upset the prosecution and the judges.”
“When the hearing adjourned at the end of the day, he returned to prison. Michel Habimana is serving a life sentence. That evening his cell was surged by the police on the instructions of – so we understand – the prosecution. He was also interrogated by a police officer about documents found in his cell and about the evidence that he was giving.”
What kind of evidence was he giving?
“A large part of the prosecution case against Victoire Ingabire is based on evidence given by one of her co-accused, a guy called Vital Uwumuremyi. He’s a former soldier in the Rwandan army. More recently he was a soldier in the Hutu rebel group FDLR, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, in Congo.”
“This witness, Colonel Michel Habimana, was arrested in DRC with Vital Uwumuremyi. They were repatriated to Rwanda and spent time together in reintegration camps. The witness explained last week in court that has been approached by officers of the intelligence service in Rwanda. The officers would have effectively encouraged and persuaded Vital Uwumuremyi to assist them in creating a case against Victoire Ingabire.”
"A person has approached the defense. That person would have been prepared to explain to the juges their knowledge that Vital Uwumuremyi had been offered money by the intelligence service."
Don’t you think that by withdrawing from court your chances of winning will decrease?
“Ingabire’s decision to withdraw from the trial certainly doesn’t increase her chances of being acquitted. But she’s a grown woman, she’s an intelligent woman, she’s an independent woman and she has taken the decision that she has.”
According to Rwandan chief prosecutor Martin Ngoga, the interrogation of the witness never took place. Ngoga could not be reached for further comment on the accusations.