News / Africa

Rwanda Tribunal Lawyers Denounce Killing of One of Their Own

An association of lawyers working at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has denounced the recent killing of one of their colleagues.  They also expressed grave concern at the series of murders, arrests and assassination attempts in the run-up to Rwanda's presidential election next month. 

The statement by a collective of defense lawyers at the Tanzania-based tribunal for Rwanda, known by its acronym ICTR, was released following the killing of law professor Jwani Mwaikusa earlier this week near his home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The head of the association, American lawyer and law professor Peter Erlinder, told VOA Mwaikusa had been very active at the tribunal. "Professor Mwaikusa had been successful in preventing a number of cases from being transferred from the ICTR to Rwanda and he also had recently completed a trial in which he announced he was going to be filing an appeal," he said.

Mwaikusa had said the trials would not be fair if they were held in Rwanda.

Erlinder himself was recently jailed for nearly a month in Rwanda on charges of challenging the government's official history of what happened during the 1994 genocide, after trying to represent an opposition leader who was also jailed on genocide denial charges.

The statement calls for an independent investigation of the Mwaikusa murder, as well as guarantees from the United Nations Security Council to ensure the safety of the tribunal's defense lawyers.

Erlinder also said evidence necessary to defense teams is being withheld at the tribunal, and he called for fully disclosing evidence of crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994 by both the former government and current leadership.

"We have a situation where the entire defense at the ICTR is finding itself in a situation where it is very hard to do its work," he said.

The statement by the lawyers said they were afraid Mwaikusa's murder was not isolated.  It followed last month's assassination attempt against a former ally turned opponent of Rwandan President Paul Kagame in South Africa, the killing of a journalist in Kigali who was investigating the assassination bid, and the near decapitation of an official from Rwanda's opposition Democratic Green Party, who was found dead near his car earlier this week near the southern town of Butare.

Rwandan authorities have denied any link between the series of murders and attacks and the upcoming election, saying those who insinuate a crackdown is taking place are in their words "frustrated" politicians.

Mr. Kagame, who led the Uganda-backed ethnic minority Tutsi rebellion that took over Rwanda from its Hutu-led government after the genocide, was elected in 2003 with more than 95 percent of the vote. He has expressed confidence he will be re-elected in August.

Rwandan police say they arrested a man in connection with the killing of the opposition leader, saying he was a businessman connected with the Green Party.

Several suspects have been arrested in the case of the journalist.

But there is growing international pressure on Rwanda's government to clarify the situation.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a full investigation into the deaths of the journalist and the opposition leader.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero recently called off a planned meeting with Mr. Kagame, after protests by Spanish human rights groups.  

In Spain, a case is pending against dozens of current and former Rwandan officers who have been indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for alleged reprisal killings during and after the 1994 genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of people, most of them ethnic Tutsis, were killed.

Spanish law allows its courts to prosecute crimes against humanity even if those crimes took place elsewhere.

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