Logic and Rwanda’s detractors seem to rarely, if ever, inhabit the same universe. When it comes to condemnation of the country, they admit no impediment to having their cake and eating too. The trial of genocide suspect, Wencelas Twagirayezu, however, must give pause to even the most zealous proponent of “cakeism.”
Few institutions in Rwanda are targets of disparaging attacks, more than the judicial system. So fanatical are these attacks, that organisations like Human Rights Watch (HRW), which are supposed to be advocates for human rights, will think nothing of making common cause with planners and perpetrators Genocide. When they are not pulling it, which they often are, they are quick to jump on any bandwagon that they feel offers an opportunity to demonise Rwanda.
The organisation’s representatives, stood in a British court, alongside supporters of the planners and perpetrators of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide Against the Tutsi, to urge the judges in London, not to rule in favour of extraditing genocide suspects to Rwanda.
It is in large measure due to HRW’s intervention, that five people suspected of the most grave crimes of genocide, have continued to live freely in Britain, for the best part of ten years, thumbing their noises at justice and genocide survivors. We are left in an extraordinary situation, where a supposed human rights organisation, actively undermines any and all attempts to bring accused mass murderers to justice.
Predictably, HRW of course, claims that their opposition to extradition of suspects to Rwanda, is because they do not believe that the accused will get a fair trial. It is a claim that in sending fugitives to be tried in Rwanda, European countries, notably the scandinavian countries of Danmark and Sweden, among them, as well as the United States of America, have contradicted time and again.
So rabid has been the anti Rwanda campaign pursued by HRW, that the now retired American diplomat, Richard Johnson, was moved to write a fifteen-page damning essay, he titled, ‘The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda.’ “What Human Rights does on Rwanda, is not human rights advocacy” he begins, “It is political advocacy which has become profoundly unscrupulous in both its means and its ends…”
Had HRW had their way, Wencelas Twagirayezu would have remained in Danmark, never to see the inside of a courtroom, to answer for the serious crimes of genocide, of which he stands accused.
Now, thanks to his lawyers, the many years that have passed, and the strict application of the letter of the law, by the Rwandan judges, Twagirayezu is a free man, albeit until a ruling is made on the prosecution’s appeal, against his release.
Two out of three judges trying his case, ruled that there were sufficient grounds to doubt at least, some of the witnesses’ testimonies against him.
The ruling in no way seems to have dented the prosecution’s confidence in the strength of their case. And they did manage to persuade one of the judges, all of which adds to reason enough for them to have immediately appealed against the judges’ majority decision.
Any lay person who observed the court proceedings, or read the court papers, would be forgiven for wondering how the accused walked out of the dock a free man. They may even have reached the conclusion that there is something in the common adage, attributed to English dramatist, George Chapman, that “the law is an ass.”
The prosecution produced witness, after witness, whose testimonies seemed to leave no doubt that the accused was guilty of crimes of genocide, as accused. One or two of the witnesses however, seemed to contradict their own testimony. This allowed the defence to argue that there was reasonable doubt about whether the accused was indeed where he was accused to have been, at the crime scenes, not only as one of the murderers, but one of their leaders.
Common sense would suggest that after almost thiry-years, the odd lapse of memory from a couple of witnesses, would not determine the outcome of the entire case. But judges in the court of law are guided by more than just common sense, they have to go by the letter of the law, even by doing so, might seem to make an ass of it.
Twagirayezu is not the only genocide suspect, whose defence team convinced Rwandan judges, to acquit on what seemed a technicality. In 2016, Leopold Munyakazi was extradited to Rwanda, from the United States.
The head of the largest and most important labour union organisation, in 1994, the sixty-seven-year-old academic and lecturer, stood accused of participating in the mass murders, and the commissioning of those murders, among other crimes of genocide. He was acquitted of all charges, but found guilty of revision, and genocidal denial, for which he was sentenced to a nine-year sentence.
As in the Twagirayezu case, the prosecution and witnesses were in no doubt that he was guilty as accused, but the judges ruled that the prosecution had not managed to prove his guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is not just in the cases involving extraditions, which are predictably high profile. There are no available figures for the number of acquittals on the point of law, but they could run into scores, if not hundreds.
As in any other jurisdiction, the burden of proof in these cases, lies with the prosecution. The judges may accept the word of the witnesses against the defence, but find that the prosecution did not prove their case, according to the letter of the law.
This was true in the case of the former advisor to Habyarimana, Runyinya Barabwiriza. He was acquitted, not for lack of evidence, but because the judges were not convinced that the prosecution had proved that the evidence put him where he was said to have been.
It will be sometime before we know whether Twagirayezu’s freedom is likely to be permanent, or short lived. Whatever the outcome however, what is certain is that his case, once again brings into sharp relief, the yawning gulf between depictions of Rwanda, and the reality of the country, in this case, its judicial system.