In 2008 a communal court sentenced former presidential aspirant Dr Theoneste Niyitegeka to 15years for genocide. But it emerged yesterday that the law based on by the panel to convict him does not exist.
Dr Theoneste Niyitegeka, who submitted candidature but failed to qualify for the 2003 presidential polls, was arrested several years later on warrant issued by a Gacaca community court in Southern Rwanda. The panel of judges known then as “Inyangamugayo” found him guilt of genocide in February 2008.
Since then, he has been in and out of conventional courts as he serves his jail term, seeking to overturn the Gacaca conviction. On Wednesday, at the start of his hearing, Dr Niyitegeka told court that the law used by Gacaca did not exist anywhere in the Gacaca statute.
Armed with bandles of paper, legal documents and the Rwandan constitution, Dr Niyitegeka accompanied by his lawyer showed the judge a page from the Gacaca statute where the community judges derived their verdict. And when the said articles were read in court, they do not correspond with those recorded in the hand-writtern Gacaca verdict.
Instead of the articles laying out the cases and penalty, the articles used do outline the characteristics of a Gacaca judge and how the panel is constituted.
The court in Muhanga district is not determining whether Dr Niyitegeka is guilty of genocide, but whether the technicalities involved in sentencing him to 15 years were legal. Observers say such a technicality could be basis for eventual acquittal of the convicted medical doctor.
Prosecution on its part told the Nyamabuye Intermediate court that it does not have the jurisdiction to handle this particular case, as the accused should have sought reprieve from the Supreme Court.
The judge has set June 13 to deliver verdict on the Niyitegeka application.
In the 2003 polls, incumbent Paul Kagame won with 95% landslide, leaving his competitors to share the remaining percentage. Dr Niyitegeka was not on the ballot.