Defence lawyers are paid to do and say whatever it takes to protect the interests of their clients. This explains why Léon Mugesera’s lawyers, in a last-minute scramble to prevent their client’s deportation to Rwanda, resorted to raising the spectre of torture. It amounts to a baseless and cruel slur against our country, and therefore demands a response.
Rwanda does not engage in torture in any form, under any circumstances, ever. It is against the law in Rwanda to commit acts of torture.
At an international level, we are willing signatories to the United Nations convention that specifically prohibits such inhumane conduct. But most importantly, the idea of torture runs directly counter to the philosophy of justice and reconciliation that we adopted since the genocide against Tutsis ended after 100 days and over one million lost lives in July 1994.
After the killings ceased, the Rwandan people quickly understood the need to embrace a vision of justice without vengeance. Of course victims and survivors demand and deserve justice for their suffering. But as we looked forward as a people, we knew that such justice could not be delivered in a way that would simply reignite the ethnic divisions and hatred that fuelled the genocide in the first place. We had, all of us, witnessed enough bloodshed for a thousand lifetimes.
This vision for Rwandan justice has been facilitated in large part through community-based courts that have tried more than 1.5 million cases of genocide-related crimes since 2001. Of those found guilty, some serve prison terms, but many more have been ordered to perform community service and to repay victims’ families out of their earnings. Remarkably for a country that saw 10 per cent of its population murdered less than two decades ago, Rwanda’s incarceration rate is significantly lower than that of many other countries.
Serious cases related to the planning and orchestration of the genocide were referred to a United Nations court based in Tanzania, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Established in 1994, the ICTR has tried and convicted 29 of the key architects of the genocide, with numerous cases on appeal or awaiting trial. In line with Rwanda’s remarkable socio-economic progress since 1994, our justice system has also made significant strides. In order to build a court system and legal profession capable of delivering justice for Rwandans by Rwandans, the government has instituted a series of landmark reforms, including the abolition of the death penalty in 2007 and changes to the penal code. As recently as this week, this progress was recognized when the ICTR, for the first time in the court’s history, asked Rwanda’s prosecutor-general to take over the case of a genocide suspect.
Less than three weeks ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declared Rwanda safe for the remaining 100,000 refugees who have yet to join the three million who have come home since 1994. The UN has also asked Rwanda to house war criminals from Sierra Leone. The European Court of Human Rights, as well as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, have ruled in favour of extraditing genocide suspects to Rwanda – yet another vote of confidence in the maturity and rigour of our judicial and penal systems.
The word “miracle” is often applied to Rwanda since 1994, but the term is misleading. While our progress as a nation has indeed been astonishing – take any measure, from maternal and child health to gross domestic product growth or access to schooling – it has been the outcome of tireless dedication on the part of a people determined to aim higher than just survival. Reconciliation, enabled by the healing power of justice, has been at the heart of this endeavour.
That is why there is no room in modern Rwanda for torture.
Edda Mukabagwiza is Rwanda’s high commissioner to Canada