Universal justice dominates jurists’ meet
Chief Justices and legal practitioners began the tenth edition of the East African Magistrates and Judges Association (EAMJA) conference in Kigali, yesterday, with a call on Africa to standardise its judicial systems since it was the only alternative against western imperialism.
“We have to closely examine the conceptual and practical exercise of universal jurisdiction. As judges and magistrates, we deal with disputes and controversy, so we must contribute hugely to the fight against impunity and strengthen the rule of law in our countries. With that approach, Africa will have concurring opinions,” said the Tanzanian Chief Justice, Mohamed Chande.
He noted that his country recently initiated a constitutional review process that leads to the creation of a new constitution come 20th April 2014 and that, one of the issues that will feature prominently, is the role of the judiciary in Tanzania’s liberty and its contribution on the legal order.
In his assessment, Rwanda’s Chief Justice, Sam Rugege, noted that universal jurisdiction involves a country trying persons, where there is no connection to the accused and the only connection being the crime.
“We need to ask ourselves why our cases end up in European countries, why do those countries feel justified to judge us, and why do we have such terrible conflicts when others are busy with developments.”
“Don’t we have human and material resources in our countries to hand these cases ourselves? Are we going to call this judicial imperialism or is it our own failure? We need to examine why we have no confidence in our judicial systems, how we govern ourselves and take care of the interests of our people, then if we answer those questions, then we may have the world let us manage our own affairs,” Rugege, challenged the gathering.
He highlighted the trend of Rwanda’s judicial reforms since 1994 after the Genocide against the Tutsi saying that, like other institutions, the judicially was virtually destroyed and had to be rebuilt.
“Since 2003, with the new constitution that established an independent judiciary, separation of powers, rule of law and respect for human rights, we have gone on to build our judiciary to be at par with the other judiciaries in the region.
“But we still have a lot to learn from our partner states. There are a lot of ideas we could still share, like terms and conditions of service, training of judges and court staff, exchanging of case law from our superior courts on issues of common interest, tackling most pressing issues and establishing standards and sharing experiences on managing case backlogs so that we can deliver fair and timely justice to our people,” said Rugege.
Opening the meeting, Prime Minister, Dr Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, noted the concept of universal jurisdiction remains a contentious issue, generating a lot of debate among scholars, policy makers and legal practitioners across the world.
“The Principle of universal jurisdiction is potentially useful as a legal concept and it is meant to overcome jurisdictional gaps in the international legal systems and impunity by ensuring that those responsible of crimes like Genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and piracy are brought to justice,” said the Premier.
The EAMJA conference drew over 300 local and foreign delegates.
In his interpretation of the theory of International Jurisdiction, the Prime Minister said that often, the argument for invoking these principles is that national jurisdictions are either unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute criminals or, the judicial systems are weak and inadequate and because of this, a crime ceases to be a matter of national concern and becomes a concern of the international community.
“In practice, however, Universal Jurisdiction is neither fair nor equitable. It has been open to gross abuse and ended up creating impunity. One major source of abuse of this principle is the fact that there is no clear and precise legal basis for its use in international law since each country manages it as it wishes,” said Habumuremyi.
He observed out that the EAMJA strengthens regional integration in judicial matters since it gives those involved in the administration of justice a platform to debate the issues of universal jurisdiction and come up with practical solutions.
He pointed an accusing finger at Western counties, saying Rwanda has been a victim of the continued abuse of the principle of universal jurisdiction with Judges sitting in Europe and wrongly indicting its citizens without evidence.
“Yet, they have individuals from powerful countries who have massively violated human rights but are deliberately ignored,” the PM added.
Contact email: edwin.musoni[at]newtimes.co.rw