The New Times (Kigali)

6 January 2014

Rwanda: Interview - Empower African Court As Alternative to ICC - Rugege

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The Government has over the years been encouraging usage of ICT in all institutions for efficiency of service delivery. How is the Judiciary faring in this area?

ICT infrastructure has been laid out in all courts. When we started out, there were very few computers in the courts but as I speak, every court has its own computers and everything is done online.

When the reforms started, most courts were using typewriters; judges used what I can call stenographers to do their typing, but now every judge writes their own judgment. That way, you are fully responsible for your actions and any mistakes are your mistakes. This has completely revolutionalised the working of the Judiciary.

The reporting system has also been made easy whereby every court from any part of the country is required to send in a report, on a monthly basis, to the inspectorate detailing the cases that were completed, those that were not completed and why. There is also a video link that helps us, whenever necessary, to conduct a trial or interview witnesses online.

The Supreme Court seems to have a lot on its table. In several countries you have the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court; here the latter does both the interpretation of the Constitution and conduct of ordinary trials. Isn't it cumbersome

In the long term, the solution is to ensure that very few cases reach the Supreme Court. Currently, we have a backlog of over 2,000 cases. It is going to be extremely difficult to get rid of this backlog.

We have tried to limit the number of cases coming in by raising the minimum (in civil cases) value of the litigation to Rwf50 million, but that's not helping much because every litigant tries their best to get the evaluation of the property in litigation to over 50 million to ensure their case comes to the Supreme Court.

In criminal cases, again the cases which have over 10 years of imprisonment must be decided in the Supreme Court. We have introduced a process where cases shouldn't come here because of procedural issues like, if it is filed out of time or it doesn't fall within the criteria of the cases which should come to the Supreme Court, it should be eliminated by the Chief Registrar, and that is helping in reducing the number of cases.

But, ultimately, the solution would be for the Supreme Court itself to be able to sieve through the cases filed and judge on the admissibility before they go on trial, like it is done in many countries around the world. If a case is seen to have been well handled, it should not reach the Supreme Court.

However, both the ordinary Rwandan citizens and the parliamentarians have always resisted that system. They seem to think that everybody should have their say in the highest court.

So we are still stuck with that problem. We had an increase in the number of judges recently, but you cannot just keep increasing the number of judges, that would also bring budget problems. We, therefore, we need to find other solutions.

There have been disagreements between African states and the ICC with the former arguing the court is targeting Africa, what do you think should be the way forward.

There is nothing wrong with the international court handling international crimes. Problems in one country can affect other countries. So, in order to fight impunity everywhere, an international court is a good idea. The problem lies in the way the current international court is operating. It is mainly targeting Africa as if there are no problems elsewhere in the world, as if no crimes against humanity are committed in countries outside Africa. So, it gives one the impression that the ICC only deals with weak states and weak situations. It ceases to be international if it deals with only one part of the world.

The Statute that established the ICC says the ICC only intervenes where the country is unable or not willing to prosecute humanitarian crimes, but there are countries which will not subject themselves to the process. So there is no opportunity for them to decide whether the country is able or willing to prosecute if it is not a member of the organisation.

If powerful countries like the United States, Russia and China are not subject to the ICC, then how can we call it international? And the worse thing is that those are the ones that sit on the Security Council and decide which person to be prosecuted by the same court. The ICC should really be straightforward, countries are not subject to the ICC and those that are not members should not decide who should be prosecuted by the court.

About alternatives, we already have our own court; the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights which can handle the cases that ICC is handling, but it is not getting the support it deserves.If the African nations can be serious about the African Court of Human Rights, there is no reason why any African should be sent to the ICC.

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