[JURIST] A senior defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] was shot dead outside of his home Tuesday night. Police say Jwani Mwaikusa [Martindale profile] was killed [BBC report], along with his nephew and neighbor, and that the attackers then ransacked Mwaikusa’s car, taking a briefcase and some documents. Mwaikusa worked as a defense counsel for former businessman Yussuf Munyakazi, who was convicted [judgment summary; JURIST report] earlier this month on charges of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. Rwandan authorities had sought to have Munyakazi transferred to Rwanda for trial, but that request and the subsequent appeal were both denied [JURIST report] based on Mwaikusa’s argument that his client couldn’t get a fair trial there, because the judiciary in Rwanda may not be fully independent and immune from outside pressure. Mwaikusa lived outside of Tanzania’s main city of Dar es Salaam, where he also taught law at the University of Dar es Salaam [official website]. It is unclear whether the shooting is related to Mwaikusa’s work with the ICTR, as five people in Dar es Salaam have been shot dead by armed robbers in the last two months, a higher number than normal.
This is not the first instance of an ICTR defense lawyer facing hostilities. Last month, US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] returned to the US Tuesday after spending 21 days in a Rwandan prison. Erlinder was arrested [JURIST report] on charges that he denied the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. He was in Rwanda to prepare his defense of opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza [campaign website], who was arrested in April [JURIST report] on similar charges. Erlinder had pleaded not guilty [JURIST report]. Demanding Erlinder’s release, more than 30 ICTR defense lawyers issued a joint statement [JURIST report; text] last month, threatening a boycott. According to the statement, Erlinder’s arrest indicated a growing threat to the country’s legal system, because, “anyone who is involved in the defence of an accused person – be they counsel, investigator, assistant or Defense witness – runs the same risks and is exposed to the same threats of being criminally categorized as a ‘negationist’ as defined in Rwandan legislation.”