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East African leaders urged to form own ICC

Leaders of the East African countries have been urged to shun the “biased” Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) and instead form their own regional court to handle crimes against humanity.

The call was made yesterday by Rwandan Chief Justice, Sam Rugege, during the 16th triennial Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association (CMJA) conference at Speke Resort hotel Munyonyo, Kampala. Rugege (alias Torts), a product and former lecturer of Makerere and Lesotho universities, was presenting a keynote speech titled: ‘Post-genocide justice in Rwanda’.

“We should be able to have confidence in our judicial system instead of waiting for somebody to grab our people and try them before ICC. I oppose this court because it uses double standards. Whereas some international criminal suspects from countries like USA are untouchable, ours are grabbed left and right,” Rugege said, attracting cheers from some delegates.

Dwelling on the pre and post-1994 genocide that claimed more than one million lives, Rugege, who has been Chief Justice close to a year now, said Rwanda’s experience with local informal courts known as Gacaca has developed the country’s judicial system and economy.

After the genocide, Rwanda formed Gacaca courts in every village where  convicts  of cases involving  loss of lives were sentenced to imprisonment, and those convicted with lesser cases served communal service sentences like repairing roads and buildings, planting crops for prisoners and planting trees, among other tasks.

In a bid to fight corruption in Rwanda’s judiciary, Rugege said, the NJGC has helped Gacaca courts dispose of more than two million cases. It has also seen 15 judges and registrars lose their jobs over bribery allegations.

“These informal courts handled by elected people of high integrity promote co-existence and are very cheap, where transport and legal representations are not required. Like President Museveni said in his opening speech, the formal courts threaten court goers with their gowns, wigs and the legal jargon,” Rugege added.

He revealed that Rwanda’s judicial system is IT-savvy, with not only every judge having internet access, but also an electronic filing in place. Rwanda’s judicial system is also soon moving on to apply the use of video conferences.

“With all this in place, we’re now set as a country to hear cases in the category of  crimes against humanity, which are currently handled by the International  Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, and as I speak, one Wikindi has been brought back to Rwanda for trial and seven others  are soon coming from Canada,” Rugege added.

He said the reason why Kenyans have agreed to have four of their citizens, including leaders, tried by the ICC is that they do not trust their country’s judicial system. The four are facing crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the violent aftermath of the country’s 2007 election.

The hearings inject new uncertainty into East Africa’s largest economy as it prepares for a presidential election. Two of the accused are potential contenders in a vote expected in December — Uhuru Kenyatta, who holds deputy prime minister, and finance minister posts; and former higher education minister, William Ruto.

slubwama@observer.ug

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