The New Times (Kigali)

20 December 2012

Rwanda: Govt Calls for Enhanced Cooperation On Genocide Fugitives

Photo: News of Rwanda
Burial for genocide victims (file photo).

Justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama has urged lawyers from the French-speaking countries union to help bring to book Genocide suspects.

He was speaking at a three-day international conference of lawyers from the Francophone countries that closed on Wednesday in Kigali.

The lawyers, from 83 countries, gathered to share experiences under the theme: "Justice and Reconciliation, Good Governance and Development."

Karugarama explained that the Rwanda judicial system is capable of trying any case, following a number of reforms in the judicial sector.

"Rwanda is a transformed country today; it takes a lot of efforts to give justice to all Genocide suspects and, on the other hand, Genocide victims," said Karugarama.

He said that the prisons were overcrowded after the Genocide and there was a big cry for justice.

"The conventional judicial system could not take us far, we believed in home-grown solutions and adopted Gacaca courts," he said.

Karugarama, is one of the founding members of Kigali Bar Association, said it was a success story as Gacaca courts tried about 2 million cases.

Scholars say given the number of cases, it would have taken at least 300 years to try the Genocide suspects in the conventional courts.

"Several countries are not willing to send fugitives to Rwanda, we ask the international community either to send fugitives here in Rwanda or try them," the minister said, citing European countries which he said host a big number of fugitives.

Although he acknowledged that the lawyers cannot make decisions on extradition, Karugarama urged them to do the advocacy role.

The president of the Kigali Bar Association, Athanase Rutabingwa, reaffirmed that trials are properly handled in Rwandan courts and lawyers freely exercise their duties.

"No lawyer has ever been quizzed for representing so and so in court, we are independent," said Rutabingwa.

The Kigali Bar Association has about 700 lawyers from 39 who started the union in 1997.

Rwandan lawyers said that such an international conference was a platform to share ideas on how to overcome challenges they face.

"In our profession, sharing experience and updates is needed and for us we expect to share best practices," said Lawyer Jeanne d'Arc Mutesi.

DRC snubs

Meanwhile, the Congolese umbrella of Bar Association rejected the invitation to this meeting in Kigali over 'unclear excuses'.

The lawyers from Goma and Bukavu wanted to come but the central bureau forbid them, revealed Athanase Rutabingwa.

However, the decision by the Congolese lawyers' body to decline the invitation is a big surprise, according to lawyer Gatera Gashabana.

"They are the first people who voted for Rwanda to host this meeting, they were happy saying they would come in a big number," said Gatera.

The Bukavu and Goma-based lawyers reportedly expressed their will to come but later declined.

There were participants from countries like Belgium, France, Canada, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Spain, Congo Brazaville, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Burkina Fasso and Mali, among others.

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