7 February 2013

Rwanda: The Mugesera Trial

Léon Mugesera's lawyer Jean Felix Rudakemwa has refuted claims that his client is employing delaying tactics as one of the country's most high profile genocide cases runs into its third week.

Accused of five crimes that include 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, Mugesera is facing a justice system which he despised before being deported in January last year.

"How can we deliberately delay the trial, when our client is keen on swift justice? Do you think he is not tired of prison," Rudakemwa asked during one of the court appearances of Mugesera.

Mugesera according to Prosecution, which is headed by the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga, has used excuses like wanting more time to study dossiers, advocating for his trial to be conducted in French, accusing some judges of bias, seeking for special jurisdictions and deeming his trial null and void because he is accused of genocide related crimes yet he was out of the country during the time of genocide.

Mugesera's crimes largely stem from an alleged inflammatory speech he gave in western Rwanda in 1992, that allegedly incited the killing of Tutsis across the country and throwing their bodies into River Nyabarongo, a tributary of the Nile, as a shortcut to Ethiopia where they allegedly came from. The linguistics Professor, who was then a senior leader of the then ruling MNRD Party, would later flee to Canada in 1993 and later fight his deportation for 18 years till January 2012.

Mugesera trial sucks in High Profile Prosecutors

After fighting and winning the battle to have him deported back to Rwanda, the Prosecution has pulled out its top guns to convince court of the former politician's culpability. The Mugesera trial is one of the few court cases that Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga is taking part in.

Ngoga is assisted by veteran prosecutors, John Bosco Mutagana and Claudine Dusingizimana, while the defense team has three lawyers; Otachi Bw'Omanwa, a Kenyan, Melissa Kanas, an American, and Felix Rudakemwa from Rwanda.

In his second term as Prosecutor General, Ngoga has directly taken part in few court cases but his office was quick to point out that there is no big difference whether he takes part in a particular court case or delegates. "The Prosecutor General has been involved in many cases during his term of office and he delegates some of the others. There is nothing big about him being the lead prosecutor in the Mugesera case," statement from his office said.

Mugesera's lawyer Rudakemwa, however, says this is the biggest trial that he has been involved in and that he is confident of the defense's ability to win the case.

"We are certain of winning this case, ofcourse I cannot tell you why for obvious reasons of not wanting the other party to know," he says.

Mugesera asked for four years to prepare his defense, arguing that the Prosecution has had nine years to prepare its case but he was overruled by Judges Athanase Bakuzukundi and Eugene Ndagijimana.

The Linguistics Professor at first refused to enter a guilty or not guilty plea as the trial in substance commenced. After pleading not guilty, Mugesera requested legal aid in terms of fees for his three lawyers, two researchers, experts and witnesses, saying that he is unable himself to pay all of that.

However the prosecution objected, arguing that the court has nothing to do with the management of the lawyers of the accused. The judges too rejected saying court had ruled on requests for more time to prepare the defense. They also observed that they could not address the issue of lawyers' fees since it had not been brought up in the pre-trial hearings. Mugesera was, however, not done as he kept interrupting the prosecution's submissions despite pleas from the judges that he would be given ample time to prepare his defense. Speech must be contextualised The defendant has insisted on the speech being put into context, arguing that the Prosecution was only picking bits of the speech to base on their case. "I would like to correct what people keep taking out of context and misinterpreting in the speech. It is generally obvious that words and events are related to their immediate context," Mugesera said.

"In law what is not always fully appreciated is the need to consider the whole background to the immediate context, not to pick one point in the introduction of the speech and also another one in the middle of the speech, this distorts the meaning and context," the academician said.

Mugesera said that picking parts of his speech wfrom different areas is like creating a new speech which distorts the meaning behind the original. He also told the court that the speech alone cannot prove responsibility for genocide. The Canadian national, who was deported from Canada last year, said that he does not understand how the speech played a role to the genocide since he delivered it two years earlier.

"There is nothing that links me to the actual killings," he pointed out.

He also refuted the prosecution's allegation that he was linked to the famous Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). "The accusations are baseless since the radio was created when I had already left Rwanda," Mugesera explained.

The trial was paused as Mugesera sought permission to seek for medical treatment because of undisclosed illness.

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