Rwanda has justifiable reasons for the decision to withdraw from the special declaration of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, Justice minister Johnston Busingye has said.
Busingye was speaking Wednesday at a high-level meeting to discuss the implications of Rwanda's withdrawal from the declaration.
The meeting, in Kigali, was organised by the Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD), a local NGO.
Rwanda was the sixth country (out of a total of eight) to make the declaration.
Rwanda ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in May 2003 on the establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
It was ten years later in January 2013 that the country went a step further and became the 6th country to make the Declaration under Article 34 (6) of the Protocol accepting the competence of the Court to receive cases from individuals and NGOs.
However, Rwanda last year made a decision to withdraw from the declaration that was enacted to allow individuals and NGOs to directly file cases before the court.
"In making the declaration, Rwanda did believe it was a step toward the promotion and protection of the rights of its people and advancement in the way of human rights protection on the continent," said Busingye, who also doubles as the attorney general.
"However, the declaration progressively degenerated into a platform which all sorts of organisations and individuals, including convicts of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, could use to promote their agenda."
According to Busingye, soon after Rwanda made the declaration, a consortium of NGOs started mobilising litigation against the country.
"In 2014, we obtained a project document, worth Euro 300,000, which stated clearly that its objective was to obtain at least five judgements each condemning declarant states, including Rwanda, for violation of human rights and pressurising them through any means to enforce the judgments," he added.
Busingye told legal experts and human rights activists at the meeting that Rwanda withdrew from the declaration because it couldn't afford to let the court be a platform for Genocide convicts to launder themselves.
"A Category One Genocide convict, who had been sentenced on June 6, 2009, to life in prison, on the basis of Rwanda's Declaration, was one of the petitioners claiming that Rwanda was violating citizens' rights by conducting the 2015 referendum," said Busingye, referring to a petition by former parliamentarian Stanley Safari.
Concerns genuine - legal expert
The minister said that, by allowing individuals to directly lodge cases before the court, Rwanda did not and could not, in any way, envisage or intend to include in this category of individuals, Genocide convicts and fugitives from justice.
At least six cases against Rwanda are pending in the court, including that of Victoire Ingabire who alleges that her current imprisonment for genocide denial was unfair and politically motivated.
But Rwanda has withdrawn from the court on individual petitions and remains cooperative on cases involving a country and another country, Busingye said.
"It is Rwanda's strong conviction that there was every legitimate necessity to take the action we took in order to reflect this belief; we were not in doubt about our beliefs, about the political imperative to take the action we took and about the legal possibility of doing it," Busingye said.
With regard to the declaration under Article 34 (6) of the Protocol, Rwanda now belongs with the 46 out of 53 countries that are yet to make it, which means that only seven African countries currently allow their individual citizens and NGOs to directly take cases before the African court.
Legal expert Innocent Musonera, a law don at University of Rwanda, who is currently doing a PhD research on the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights, agrees that Rwanda was extremely challenged on whether to remain supportive of the declaration.
"Rwanda's concerns are genuine. You have Genocide convicts who have not showed up to serve their sentences and Genocide suspects or other criminal suspects who are fugitives and they are given a platform to bring up new cases that have nothing to do with their criminal charges," he told The New Times on Wednesday.
Musonera added that although Rwanda had initially subscribed to the declaration, it was politically naïve to let that happen in the first place.
"Initially, it was a good thing. It is a situation where a government commits to the protection of human rights but given these concerns it is problematic," he said.
But Kigali-based human rights lawyer Christian Garuka said Rwanda's withdrawal from the declaration shouldn't stop the Government from responding to the court's hearings on the already pending cases, and challenge the petitions.
"Although Rwanda has already made the withdrawal from the declaration under Article 34, it should not miss the opportunity to challenge before a court of law the admissibility of these pending cases. Otherwise, the court could rule on merits by default and this could make the allegations made by the plaintiffs against the Government of Rwanda look legitimate," he said.