27 March 2017

Rwanda Skips Ingabire Trial

Rwanda skipped a hearing of the case brought against it by jailed opposition politician Victoire Ingabire at the African Court on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) last week, in protest against two NGOs whose activities it claims are compromising the court's independence.

The case was heard on March 22.

Kigali said it doubted the independence and impartiality of the Arusha-based court, claiming that its judgment was pre-determined.

Correspondence seen by The EastAfrican shows that Rwanda protested over the Coalition for a Strong African Court and the International Federation of Human Rights -- NGOs that it accuses of interference in the exercise of the court's mandate, and asked that its concerns be heard in a public session before the cases brought against it can be considered.

"The aim or purpose of some NGOs carrying out projects to support the activities of the court is to lodge complaints against Rwanda, and to establish Rwanda's responsibility for the violation of human rights through biased court decisions," a letter sent to the court by Rwanda reads.

According to sources, the ACHPR acknowledged that some international organisations had brought to its attention funding proposals from the two NGOs. But the court said that it was not and has never been in "intelligence" with one party to the detriment of the other party in a case before it.Communication between Rwanda and the court's registry shows that the court invited Rwanda to express its concerns at a public hearing, but Rwanda rejected the offer."The registrar's suggestion that Rwanda could raise these issues at the public hearing in one of the cases against Rwanda would serve only to legitimise a procedure that we consider illegitimate," Rwanda responded in a letter.

Ms Ingabire's defence team described Rwanda's refusal to show up as contempt of the continental court. "We also fear that it means that even if we get a favourable decision, Rwanda will not implement it," Caroline Buisman, one of Ms Ingabire's two lawyers, told The EastAfrican.

Nevertheless, the advocates pleaded the case and asked ACHPR to take note of Rwanda's violations of the African Charter in all the decisions taken by Rwandan courts, and to order the release of Ms Ingabire.

Ms Ingabire, the head of the unregistered party FDU-Inkingi, is serving a 15-year jail term handed to her by the Supreme Court of Rwanda in 2013, after an appeal that saw seven years added to the eight that had been handed to her earlier by the High Court.

She was found guilty of spreading rumours with the intention to incite the public to rise up against the state, endangering state security, and minimising the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Ms Ingabire, 49, has been in detention since February 2010.

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