A court in Kigali has heard a provisional detention case of Dr. Venant Rutunga, a genocide suspect, who was recently extradited from The Netherlands to face charges for genocide crimes committed in in the Southern Province of Rwanda.
Dr. Rutunga, 72, was a former Director of the Region du Plateau Central of the Institut des Agronomiques du Rwanda (ISAR Rubona)- an agriculture research site located in Rubona sector in Huye district.
The suspect is charged with three crimes of committing genocide against Tutsi, crimes against humanity and complacence in committing genocide.
The suspect had this week Monday made his first appearance before the Kicukiro Primary Court where he heard his charges (including an earlier life sentence by a local Gacaca court) and status of detention in Rwanda following both Rwanda and The Netherlands agreeing to his extradition.
During the brief hearing, Rutunga assisted by his lawyer Sophonie Sebaziga, presented the court with procedural arguments in which they stated they cannot proceed to trial without having had a prior review of the case file.
Court decided to adjourn the case and set it for hearing this Thursday August 12, 2021.
However, during the hearing Rutunga, who was dressed in civilian attire- a blue coat, white shirt, dark blue jeans and flat casual slacks; said that his rights have been violated by being detained in Nyarugenge prison and has never been sentenced for genocide by any local court to the best of his knowledge.
In regard to his detention status, Rutunga’s lawyer said that his client should be released so as to appear in court while on the outside since the Nyarugenge prison is not where he is supposed to be as an extradited suspect.
“There was fault in the detention procedures. My client should if in any case be detained, this has to be done by a competent court of which this court doesn’t have jurisdiction to do so. And this means that the gacaca sentence must be nullified so that he starts a fresh detention trial,” Sebaziga said.
Adding that by the fact that his client is in Nyarugenge prison like other inmates, means that he is detained yet the current court has no legal right to handle a provisional detention hearing on his client’s case.
For this reason, the lawyer said that the court should decide on another place to hold Rutunga but Nyarugenge prison, that way to allow him to follow up on his charges and the same should be done for any other extradition in future.
Prosecution listened carefully to the arguments and responded by asking the suspect to look at the way he is dressed casually and smartly and then compare himself to other inmates in Nyarugenge prison who are dressed in pink inmate uniforms.
“The reason why he (Rutunga) is dressed casually is because he is not detained in prison. He is simply being kept in Nyarugenge prison where there are eight special rooms for extradited suspects, who get good food, accommodation and preferential treatment,” a female Prosecutor told court.
She revealed that this treatment is underlined and agreed on in the extradition and transfer agreements between Rwanda and The Netherlands, in which both countries agreed to have Rutunga tried in Rwanda, after a European justice team assessed and approved conditions on ground where the suspect was to be held.
“This means Rwanda had proven and given assurance of upholding international standards to serving justice in this case that is why the suspect was sent to Rwanda for the process of trial to start,” she said.
Adding that the Dutch government did ask for this assurance and standards as seen in one of the letters sent to Rwanda, of which Rwanda did respond and show its capacity to handle the case thus asking for Rutunga’s extradition.
Some of the standards and requirements include-Rutunga being treated as a special extradition case, given a good place for his holding, good food and healthcare and having a team to monitor practices.
Unless you want us (Rwanda and Netherlands) to revise these standards that we agreed on, otherwise all that we were asked to offer Rutunga was done and he has been given a special treatment as required,” one of the male prosecutors told court.
Lawyer Sebaziga insisted that they don’t care the treatment he is given but the fact that he is being held in the first place thus asking court to reconsider this decision pending an in-depth trial in which Rutunga’s defence team said it was ready to battle court over its competence.
Rutunga revealed to court that he is glad that an attempt to have him wear a prison uniform was not pursued further despite the fact that he had gotten a measurement for the pink uniform from prison officials.
During the hearing prosecution pleaded with court not to provisionally release the suspect on ground that they are still collecting more evidence from witnesses and he could tamper with or influence witness evidence if released provisionally.
Court will reconvene on Tuesday August 17, 2021 to decide on whether to have Rutunga released or to be detained for a mandatory 30- days detention period.