- Chances of genocide suspect and former Rwandan Interhamwe militia leader Yussuf Munyakazi of being tried on home ground were diminished on Wednesday when the United Nations war crimes tribunal rebuffed opposition application to hold the trial in the small east African state.
Mr Munyakazi is facing charges of the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which UN estimates show that over 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were allegedly murdered by his armed forces between April and July.
The 73 year-old former farmer and businessman was arrested in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2004, prior to being brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
He allegedly masterminded and in some instances, actually participated in the killing of the Tutsis who had sought sanctuary in numerous churches in Rwanda’s Bugarame commune.
The prosecution’s application was denied on the basis that Rwanda’s abolishment of the death penalty last year for life imprisonment in isolation, completely flouts the international human rights standards.
The court was also wary of the autonomy of the judiciary in the capital Kigali, hence was skeptical that the accused would get a fair trial there.
It is however reported that the tribunal has taken into account positive measures taken by Rwanda to facilitate referral, read the decision, which added that if the country proceeded to maintain the same standard, it would refer future cases to the country’s judiciary.
Reports by Hirondelle Agency indicated that the Rwandan Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga said, "…we are deeply disappointed by that decision and we are consulting with the Prosecutor what next steps to be taken".
The defence counsel spearheaded by Professor Jwani Mwaikusa was reportedly against the prosecutor’s motion from the very start, citing among others, incompetence of the Rwandan judiciary as the basis of its contention.
Prof Mwaikusa was quoted saying, "I was opposed outrightly to the application, and my concern has always been that it is delaying the start of my client's trial."
According to observers the landmark decision will impact on other four similar applications of transfer of cases to Rwanda, which are yet to be heard.
The other four targeted suspects are: former Commander of Ngoma Camp, Lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana, businessman Gaspard Kanyarukiga, former Mayor Jean Baptist Gatete and former Inspector of Judicial Police, Fulgence Kaysihema who has since vanished.
The ICTR Prosecutor stressed that Rwanda legal framework grants fair trial, adding that this was demonstrated by the latest decision of the French Chamberry Court of Appeal on 2 April, which approved extradition of former Rwandan businessman Claver Kamanya to Kigali. The prosecution's motion requesting Munyakazi's transfer was filed on 7 September 2007.
The Human Rights Watch representative, Aisling Reidy, had told the Court that they have evidence of intimidation and harassment of legal officers and witnesses in Rwanda, adding that the defence had difficulties in securing witnesses. To date, the ICTR has delivered 30 convictions and five acquittals.
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