Rwanda has dismissed as unfounded a claim by Amnesty International that its justice system was unsuitable for trying genocide suspects currently detained abroad.
Rwanda has always been keen to play a lead role in the prosecution of those suspected of taking part in the 1994 orchestrated slaughter of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Delivering justice domestically, rather than leaving it to international and foreign courts, was seen as being key to calming tensions that have persisted 13 years after the genocide.
In a statement, Amnesty urged countries holding genocide suspects to try them themselves instead of extraditing them to Rwanda, whose courts it alleged were insufficiently fair and impartial.
“What Amnesty International is not offering is actual facts and evidence,” Rwanda’s prosecutor general John Ngoga told IRIN. “It’s just blatant allegations. We will continue to pursue fugitives, wherever they are.”
Ngoga said he welcomed criticism of Rwanda’s legal system but that concerns should be aired through legal channels that allow Rwanda to respond formally.
He went on to question the credibility of Amnesty’s claim that the ‘gacaca’ system, in which genocide suspects are tried by community courts in their villages of origin, was flawed. Ngoga said he doubted the advocacy group had first-hand accounts of misdeeds.
“I have been in charge of this process and I have no recollection of ever meeting anybody from Amnesty International,” Ngoga said. “I’m not even aware if they are represented in Rwanda.”
Rwanda’s administration turned to the traditional ‘gacaca’ system in 2001, when the country’s jails were packed with more than 100,000 genocide suspects.
“Consistent reports that fair trial guarantees are not being applied in the ‘gacaca’ process undermines the whole legal system,” Amnesty said in the statement.
Amnesty also urged the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which tries the most serious genocide cases in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, to request an extension of its mandate, currently due to expire in December 2008.
After Kigali abolished the death penalty in July 2007, the ICTR agreed pending cases would be transferred to Rwanda.