Arusha — Pentecostal pastor Jean Uwinkindi, the first person to be transferred to Rwanda by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), has mounted a constitutional challenge before Rwanda's Supreme Court.
His defence argues that the law under which he is being prosecuted violates his rights and needs to be changed. Following hearings on Monday, the Supreme Court said it will hand down a decision on February 22.
In the meantime, the start of Uwinkindi's trial remains suspended. It was due to start last week before the High Court, the second highest in the land, under the law governing case transfers from the ICTR and other countries. However, Uwinkindi's lawyer argues that he should instead be tried by a primary court.
"My client considers that, in view of the alleged facts on which he is being prosecuted, he should be tried by a primary court, with all the advantages that brings in terms of possible appeals," explained lawyer Gatera Gashabana in a phone interview from Kigali. "Trying him before the High Court, as provided by the law on transfers, constitutes a violation of the principle that everyone is equal before the judicial system, a principle which is enshrined in the Constitution of Rwanda."
The law on transfers dates from 2009. But a law passed last year, ending the semi-traditional gacaca courts, says that primary courts can try genocide suspects who did not hold leadership positions at national or regional level at the time of the 1994 genocide. Gashabana argues that his client falls into this category.
"In addition, the law ending gacaca courts allows the suspect to remain free during the trial," said Gashabana. This provision was included so as to encourage certain Rwandan refugees to return.
The Prosecutor argued that Uwinkindi had been sent to Rwanda under the transfer law, and accused the defence of deliberately spreading confusion.
Uwinkindi, 62, is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. He is accused of having Tutsi members of his Kazenze parish in eastern Rwanda massacred in 1994. The Prosecutor says he was one of the main organizers of massacres in that region, where he was head of his church. Arrested on June 30, 2010 in Uganda and transferred to the ICTR Detention Facility in Arusha, Tanzania, two days later, he has continued ever since to protest his innocence.