As everyone probably knows by now, after numerous fits and starts, the criminal case against Victoire Ingabire, who is charged with giving financial support to a terrorist group, planning to cause state insecurity and divisionism has finally begun. And it was about time. I was getting tired of reading about her unfair imprisonment in ‘maximum security’ on the Internet. For too long she seemed like a victim that was being unfairly harassed by the State, but now that the case has begun, finally, people will have the opportunity to learn why she’s been in prison for almost a year now. And on top of that she’s been allowed to mount a rigorous defense, going as far hiring British legal eagle and ICTR defense lawyer, Ian Edwards to take on the might of the National Public Prosecuting Authority (NPPA).
Various ‘experts’ in all things Rwandan had immediately deemed the charges “politically motivated” without even analyzing the merits of the case. Opening the case to the full scrutiny of the general public was a masterful stroke by the Judiciary because it will force people to acknowledge the facts of the case.
I’m not saying that the judges will necessarily agree with the Prosecution, that is their prerogative; however, the Prosecution will be given the opportunity to state the facts as they see them. And the defense will be also given the opportunity to dismiss these facts.
I think that it’s important that this judicial process be seen as transparent, not just for the benefit of our foreign detractors, but to the general public as well. They must feel that the process is free, fair and transparent.
For too long, Rwandan courts have been called ‘proxies’ of the Executive branch of the Rwandan government by all and sundry despite the fact that the ICTR ruled that Jean Uwinkindi could be transferred to Rwandan courts to face the charges of genocide because they had demonstrated that they could “enforce the highest standards of international justice”. This standard includes ‘ judicial independence’.
This is a great opportunity to prove what any unbiased observer of the justice system in Rwanda already knows: that despite the judiciary’s teething problems, it’s in fine mettle now.
Sitting in court on Monday, admiringly watching the way the judges shot down the Prosecutions plea to postpone the trial and then conducted the day arguments, I almost wished I had joined the legal profession. I was proud to call these judges my ‘learned friends’. If, as critics have said, the judges are in the thrall of the Executive, would they have thrown out the application to postpone the trial? I think not. This wasn’t the act of a panel of judges working hand in glove with the NPPA. Rather, it was decision made in order to facilitate a speedy judicial process while protecting the rights of a Rwandan citizen-in this case, Victoire Ingabire.
Looking around the courtroom, I saw members of the diplomatic corps, national and international journalists, human rights workers, members of the FDU-Inkingi (the un-registered party that Mrs. Ingabire heads) and curious observers and, while talking to some of them, not even one could fault the proceedings so far. This landmark trial, and the manner in which it enfolds in the next couple of months, will show just how far we’ve come. Not just as a judiciary but as a country as well. From my initial observations, we’ve come quite a bit and our judges are evidence of this.