Saturday, April 2, 2016

Off the rails in Rwanda

Human Rights Watch has issued a powerful report on military court trials in Rwanda. There seem to be no constraints on the exercise of military jurisdiction over retired or former military personnel. Here is an excerpt:
Use of Military Courts 
The trial of [retired Brigadier General Frank] Rusagara, [Colonel Tom] Byabagamba and [retired Sergeant François] Kabayiza was held in a military court, although both Rusagara and Kabayiza have retired from the military. The verdict stripped Byabagamba of his military rank. The same military court tried [Joel] Mutabazi and 15 co-defendants, although only Mutabazi was a serving military officer. One other defendant had been demobilised. Defendants in both trials asked the court to separate their case files, but the court refused. 
While Rwandan law grants military courts jurisdiction over civilians charged with the same offenses as military officers or related offences, under international law the jurisdiction of military courts should be restricted to members of the military, for offenses against military discipline. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has said that military courts “should not, in any circumstances whatsoever, have jurisdiction over civilians.” 
During the HRC review, the Rwandan government stated that individuals tried in military courts have the right to counsel, visits, and all other rights that exist in civilian courts. The HRC concluded that Rwanda should prevent military courts from exercising jurisdiction over civilians.
HRW had a number of serious objections to the proceedings, going beyond the improper exercise of personal jurisdiction by military courts.

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