Global Policy Forum

Rwanda: Parliament to Discuss Universal Jurisdiction


By James Karuhanga

New Times
May 16, 2008

As part of the on going extraordinary parliamentary session, both chambers of the House will today begin discussing the issue of universal jurisdiction. This meeting, initiated by Dr. Vincent Biruta, President of the Senate, is scheduled to begin this morning. The subject has been prompted by a Spanish judge's recent indictment of 40 Rwandan army officers on international criminal charges, an issue that has increasingly raised controversial questions about the appropriateness of trying such cases in the domestic courts of nations with little connection to the crimes charged.

Talking to The New Times about this meeting yesterday, the Deputy Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Polisi Denis said the indictments were double standards in international justice. "First of all, who is the plaintiff and who carries out investigations? How do they do it without consultations with the affected country... Is this fair, is that justice?" he asked. The lawmaker pointed out that rich nations dictate matters to poor countries and not vice versa, "We are going to call on experts to help explain these issues," he said. "This is not justice but politics."

A group of international experts in international law and the Minister of Justice, Tharcise Karugarama are expected to participate in this extraordinary plenary discussion. The group of experts in international law include: Dr. Jean- Damascí¨ne Bizimana, Umurungi Providence and Prof Jean- Baptiste Mvano.

Bizimana was a member of the so-called "Mucyo commission" set up to investigate France's role in the Genocide. He is also a member of an independent commission of inquiry set up to investigate circumstances under which the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana crashed, killing him and others on board. Mvano is also a member of the commission.

Providence Umurungi, a teacher in human rights and humanitarian law at the National University of Rwanda, is also the chairperson Haki-Afrika Rwanda chapter. Haki-Afrika is an association of university teachers of human rights in the Great Lakes region. This comes in the midst of the government's continued castigation of judges from powerful countries who have consistently disregarded normal international justice mechanisms and, "accorded themselves the right to extend national jurisdiction to indict weaker nations", a situation President Kagame has referred to as, "mere arrogance which simply has to be resisted."

President Kagame stressed this again in his speech to world leaders at the marking of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel. Kagame pointed out that while global interdependence during in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was inadequate and did not intervene to stop the genocide, "because powerful interests did not regard this important enough," he said. "In fact, some even abetted it."

The president went on to stress that, "as if that is not bad enough, lately, some in the more powerful parts of the world have given themselves the right to extend their national jurisdiction to indict weaker nations." "This is total disregard of international justice and order.

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