Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mock justice: the last nail in the coffin for Judges

By Charles Kabonero
The News line
December 1, 2010

About a week ago, there was an important detail about Rwanda’s judicial (justice) system that might have gone unnoticed. Two senior military court judges, Gen. Stephen Kalyango and Lt. Col. Mark Sebaganji were suspended and subjected to an investigation after they ruled a case in favor of another RDF officer, Col. Deogene Mudenge, in the military court.

Much has been talked about the lack of independence of the judiciary including how top government officials and members of the ruling clique class influence the outcome of proceedings in courts, and the entire malaise of the judicial system in Rwanda.

For this, many countries have refused to extradite suspects to Rwanda once they are arrested in foreign countries, and the Rwandan government often castigates such actions as uncalled for. A sizeable number of Rwandans have fled the country citing a biased judiciary, one that can’t guarantee justice. All this has happened, despite government officials laboring to convince the world that the judicial system in Rwanda is independent.

But one does not need any better evidence depicting the lack of judicial independence, than the words of Defence and Army Spokesman Lt. Col. Jill Rutaremara, who was quoted as saying: “They failed their duties”, in respect to the verdict returned by the two suspended officers.

Without doubt, Rutaremara’s statement suggests that the expected verdict was not delivered, an issue that riled the powers that be; Kagame and his cohorts in the army, who wanted Col. Mudenge locked up.

Yes, because by not realizing that Mudenge had to be found guilty, Kalyango and Sebaganji failed their duties, and will be investigated!

So, given such a scenario, where even judges’ verdicts in the military are not respected, one wonders how civilian judges, ‘who never fought’ can carry out their work without intimidation. How about witnesses?

But lest one forgets, there are various incidences that clearly indicate the dilemma that faces judges and the judiciary in Rwanda.

Some time back one Lady Justice was demoted to a lower court (Magistrate’s) after she provisionary released Alfred Kalisa, the former Managing Director of BCDI, who had been detained illegally. She too had ‘failed in her duties’ because she failed to know that Kalisa was Kagame’s ‘prey’ and that at the time he deserved no justice.

Then enter Evode Twizeyimana, who went on record and criticised the treatment of the Lady Judge on Voice of America.

Twizeyimana, who was working in a Butare Court, was later a target of assassination and had to flee to exile in Canada.

Another judge, Fred Mulindwa, who presided over the case in which former President Pastuer Bizimungu was tried for treason and later sentenced to fifteen years in prison, also fled the country and later publicized all details about the directives he received on how to handle Bizimungu’s case and the punishment he was to mete out!

Several people have been detained for months or years without appearing before a court. Democratic Republic of Congo renegade General Laurent Nkunda and Col.Stephen Ngabo Rugigana, if they are still alive, are good examples. The two have been kept ‘somewhere’ and have never been produced before any court. Gen. Charles Muhire is another one, yet the law is clear: a suspect will be produced in court in less than 72 hours.

When Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa left Rwanda for South Africa, the Kigali regime issued an arrest warrant for him, saying he had a case to answer in Rwanda.

He then went on record, saying he was ready to be tried in a foreign court, arguing he would never get justice in Rwanda. Subsequently, the Government engaged in the pros and cons of trying the General in Rwanda, apparently with little success, partly because of its history in relation to the independence of justice.

But now, having witnessed the two military judges’ plight, which sane person still doubts Kayumba’s wisdom and assertions? And one might also ask, what could happen to a judge who would genuinely rule a case in favor of Victoire Ingabire, Rwanda’s defacto head of opposition, who is currently in jail?

Can any other judge risk his job and life by making an independent decision again?

Kigali has put it out there for everyone to see. It is the last nail in the coffin. And, do I still hear people singing about the fundamental changes in Rwanda under Kagame? Well, time may not be their best ally.



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