Rwanda falls short in safeguarding defendant rights: HRW report News
Rwanda falls short in safeguarding defendant rights: HRW report

[JURIST] A report [PDF text] released Friday by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] states that the Rwandan government [official website; JURIST news archive] has made substantial progress in reforming its justice system over the past four years, but has fallen short in several key areas. The report commended Rwandan authorities for better ensuring the delivery of justice, strengthening defendants’ rights and abolishing the death penalty, but cautioned that “the technical and formal improvements in laws and administrative structure have not been matched by gains in independence in the judiciary and assurance of rights to fair trial.” Human Rights Watch cited a failure by the government to ensure numerous fair trial standards, including the presumption of innocence, the right to present witnesses in one’s own defense, and right to protection from double jeopardy. The report also questioned the independence of the judiciary:

Judicial authorities operate in a political context where the executive continues to dominate the judiciary and where there is an official antipathy to views diverging from those of the government and the dominant party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front. A campaign against “divisionism” and “genocidal ideology” imposes the risk of serious consequences on persons who question official interpretations of the past and who would prefer other than the official vision for the future.

The report comes at a pivotal stage for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive], which under UN Security Council Resolution 1503 [PDF text] is expected to complete all trials by 2008 and appeals by 2010. The Appeals Chamber is currently reviewing several decisions [JURIST report] in which the Trial Chamber refused to transfer cases from the ICTR to Rwandan national courts. Last month, the Trial Chamber refused [JURIST report] the third bid by ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow and the Rwandan government to transfer a case back to the country's national justice system, citing a lack of procedural safeguards, including a defendant's right to present witnesses on his behalf.