12 January 2013

Rwanda: Court Rejects Mugesera Plea

Photo: Timothy Kisambira
Léon Mugesera being handcuffed upon arrival at Kigali International Airport (file photo).

The Special Chamber of the High Court has rejected an objection filed by Genocide suspect Leon Mugesera, who petitioned that two judges in his trial be disqualified.

On Tuesday, Mugesera appeared before the Special Chamber of the High Court for his trial to start in substance, but he immediately filed a plea asking for the disqualification of trial judges, Athanase Bakuzakundi and Eugene Ndagijimana from his case.

The suspect cited the law relating to the civil, commercial, labour and administrative procedures, arguing that the two judges were not qualified to try him since they had previously tried him in other cases that he lost.

A new panel of judges led by Alice Rulisa convened and heard Mugesera objection, which was yesterday rejected.

"Mugesera alleges that, he lost a case before Bakuzakundi on his request to have his trial conducted in French, he also says that Judge Ndagijimana denied him extra time to study his case file, but Mugesera doesn't prove that the two judges were biased in any way. It is on this note that the court rejects his application for the disqualification of the judges; the two judges will continue with the trial," said the judge.

In response, Mugesera told the court that he will appeal against the decision, but the prosecution led by Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga argued that the decision on the objection for the disqualification of a judge cannot be appealed against.

"Article 175 of the law relating to the civil, commercial, labour and administrative procedures, doesn't allow the appeal of this decision at this level," Ngoga said.

The article stipulates that, "Judgements declaring inadmissible or rejecting applications disqualifying a judge shall be appealed against jointly with judgements on merits," which implies that Mugesera can only appeal against the sentence after the hearing of the case in substance.

Defence cites different law

However, Mugesera's lawyer Felix Rudakemwa said their appeal is based on the law relating to the transfer of cases from the ICTR and other jursidictions to Rwanda, which allows them to appeal against any decision.

Mugesera's trial in the Special Chamber is due to resume on Thursday next week. Mugesera is expected to enter a guilty or not guilty plea.

The former lecturer of Linguistics is accused of five crimes, namely, inciting the masses to take part in genocide, planning and preparing the genocide, conspiracy in the crime of genocide, torture as a crime against mankind, and inciting hatred among people.

He allegedly committed the crimes mainly through an incendiary speech he gave in western Rwanda in 1992, inciting the killing of Tutsis across the country.

Mugesera taught Linguistics at the National University of Rwanda, Nyakinama Campus in the Northern Province, and was the vice chairman for genocidal political party, MRND, in then Gisenyi prefecture.

He fled with his family to Quebec City in Canada. While there, Mugesera managed to fight his extradition for nearly 20 years.

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