Professor Mwaikusa had recently prevented the transfer of ICTR defendants to Rwanda on “lack of fair trial" grounds, and announced the appeal of his client, Yusuf Munyakazi's July 3 conviction.
They said that the murder was not an isolated incident, that within the past month:
1) A prominent Rwandan opposition journalist, Jean Leonard Rugambage, had been shot to death in front of his home in Kigali, Rwanda;
2) a former Rwandan general survived an apparent assassination attempt in South Africa, where he is seeking asylum;
3) the de-capitated body of the Rwandan Green Party Vice-president was found near his abandoned car near Butare, Rwanda;
4) the Rwanda Green Party’s President has been publicly threatened with assassination;
5) hundreds of Rwanda's potential opposition supporters have been arrested or disappeared;
6) Rwandan presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire was arrested on “genocide denial” charges for suggesting that both Tutsi and Hutu were victims during the 1990-94 civil war and genocide, as were her Dutch, U.S. and Rwandan lawyers.
They also said that Professor Mwaikusa's assassination follows the illegal arrest of other lawyers representing alleged opponents of the Rwandan government, and that the Rwandan government continues to refuse to recognize UN-granted immunity for ICTR defense lawyers.
ICTR defense lawyer Peter Robinson, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, has notified the court that meaningful defense of ICTR clients is not possible and has asked to withdraw. Other ICTR defense attorneys are considering similar measures.
Digital Journal spoke to ICTR lawyer and William Mitchell Law Professor Peter Erlinder
on the phone, from his home in Minneapolis-St. Paul:
Who was Professor Mwaikusa?
Professor Mwaikusa was the lawyer for Yusuf Munyakazi, one of the defendant detainees that Rwanda was trying to have transferred from the ICTR to Rwanda. The Rwandan government has been regularly filing documents at the ICTR trying to transfer the cases of the defendant detainees at the ICTR to Rwanda. And the ICTR and the human rights world has said no, that they're not gonna get fair trials there. There was a big legal battle, with Professor Mwaikusa arguing against the transfer, about a year ago and he won.
No one knows, for sure, whether he was assassinated by Rwandan Patriotic Front operatives, but we do know that the RPF target lawyers who defend people whom they have identified as their enemies including me, Theogene Muhayeyezu, the lawyer who replaced me as Victoire Ingabire's lawyer, and there was an earlier ICTR lawyer, a Rwandan who had been living in Mozambique; he was arrested when he came to the ICTR two years ago. He was arrested when he came but eventually released and has since died, apparently of natural causes.
But the situation now is that the lawyers at the ICTR have legitimate reason to be fearful of being in Africa, anywhere in Africa, especially East Africa.
Because they might be arrested, maybe arrested and extradited, or assassinated?
Professor Mwaikusa's assassination in Tanzania, after my arrest in Rwanda, then the arrest of Ingabire's Rwandan lawyer, and a previous arrest of a Rwandan lawyer at the Tribunal, it's really creating a problem for defense lawyers trying to continue to do their work at the ICTR and it's probably going to have to result in the ICTR stopping. It's probably at that point now. I think that's likely to happen in the next four or five days. Probably by Monday we'll know a lot more.
And what does that mean?
It means that the Security Council Tribunal is not functioning. It means that the legitimacy of the prosecution of the guys who lost the war [Rwandan Civil War, 1990-1994] is diminishing. It means that the legitimacy of the guys who won the war is diminishing.
And it's part of what could conceivably mean the increasing isolation of the Kagame regime, because it's going to be very difficult for the judges to tell the lawyers that they have to go forward in a situation like this. And if the lawyers can't go forward, there can't be a Tribunal and if there can't be a Tribunal, the whole enterprise begins to suffer and then the attention goes back to Rwanda.