The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), last week handed over to Rwandan authorities Jean Bosco Uwinkindi, a suspect in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, in what is seen as another vote of confidence in the country's judiciary.
ICTR's decision is of great significance because it is time a suspect is transferred to national jurisdictions under Rule 11 of the Tribunal's Rules of Procedure and Evidence.
A statement from the national prosecution office said the transfer is a landmark victory for Rwandan justice system.
On June 30, 2010, Uwinkindi, a 61-year-old pastor was arrested from the Ugandan capital Kampala. He's suspected to have unleashed killers on thousands of Tutsi who had taken refuge in his church located in Kanzenze area in Bugesera.
He was transferred to the Arusha-based ICTR detention facility on July 2, 2010 and pleaded not guilty to the charges against him on July 9, 2010.
In November 2010, the ICTR prosecutor filed a request to refer Uwinkindi's case to the Rwandan courts which was granted on June 28, 2011.
However, Uwikindi's legal team appealed the decision but it was upheld by the Appeals Chamber on December 16, 2011. His plea for a review of the decision was dismissed on February 23.
During all his appeals against ICTR decisions, Uwikindi's legal team emphasized that their client would be generally denied a fair trial based on the argument that the country's judicial system still had too many 'flaws.'
Based on that decision, the Tribunal President Judge Vagn Joensen on April 5, 2012 directed the ICTR Registrar to "immediately resume negotiations with the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) aimed at expeditiously concluding an agreement for monitoring of the trial of Jean Uwinkindi in Rwanda.
Uwikindi's transfer is good for Rwanda's judiciary as it provides the system with the much-needed precedent upon which similar cases will be decided in future.
Judge Vagn also ruled that Uwikindi's transfer be effected within a 14 days from the date of the decision further directing the Registrar to appoint ICTR legal staff to act as interim monitors upon Uwinkindi's transfer to Rwanda.
The fast paced-events apparently put Uwikindi in panicky mode who asked his legal team to file a motion April 17, requesting for "a stay of his transfer to Rwanda pending the resolution of a forthcoming second motion for reconsideration containing more detailed submissions that he would not receive a fair trial in the High Court of Rwanda."
His defense argued in their submission that events relating to Victoire Ingabire's trial in Rwanda's High Court raised questions about whether Uwinkindi will receive a fair trial, and requested seven days in which to file a more detailed motion for reconsideration.
But in what was received as very good news for the Rwandan judiciary, was the rejection of Uwinkindi's petition on April 19, with Judge Theodor Meron who presided over the Appeals Chamber stating that Uwikindi's matter had already been concluded and that the Referral Chamber had acted within its discretion in distinguishing his case from other cases in Rwanda.
Uwikindi's transfer is good for Rwanda's judiciary as it provides the system with the much-needed precedent upon which similar cases will be decided in future. However, it also presents a critical test for the judiciary as the world will be interested in seeing how well the judiciary here will handle these delicate trials with international monitors being the keenest.
Though less prominent, Uwikindi, who'll be tried under a special law concerning the transfer of Genocide suspects to Rwanda by ICTR or from other states joins fellow fugitive, Leon Mugesera who was deported from Canada two months ago.
"He has been handed over to the police, who will have to observe the normal procedure of handling a criminal case by holding him for not more than 72 hours before handing him to us to be arraigned in court," Alain Mukurarinda the spokesperson of the National Public Prosecution Authority said.
The prosecution says that about 2,000 bodies were found near Uwinkindi's former church in Bugesera after fleeing from Rwanda in July 1994. But he denies culpability.