Kigali 2nd November 2011
Yesterday, on the request of the National prosecution authority, the High Court of Kigali denied the defence counsel of Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, chairperson of FDU-Inkingi opposition party the right to cross-examine the “key witnesses”. The court ordered the defence counsel to pre-submit a list of questions in order to decide on their relevance and to allow adequate time for preparation of witnesses’ responses. Today, Barrister Ian Edwards, one of the lawyers of Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, submitted to the court a list of such questions but stressed his worries about covering up the truth mostly owing to the court decision not to allow witnesses to respond directly in open session. There is a high risk to let them rehearse the answers. This gives an impression to encourage their lies confirmed by several contradictions in their statements before the court.
Fearing that those questions may contain some difficulties for his protégés, the prosecution demanded the court to grant their right not to respond to those questions allegedly because the cross-examination of such co-accused witnesses is not allowed under the Rwandan laws. They will receive to prepare only questions the court will decide.
Defence counsel Gatera Gashabana described the prosecutor’s fears unfounded if the protégés are honest and committed to reveal the truth. “If they really decided to tell the truth without any pressure, nothing explains this amount of fear as the prosecution claims they are trustworthy”? He also wondered why the prosecution is acting in-lieu of the defence counsel for those co-accused. In response, the prosecutor insisted he had the responsibility to defend those pleading guilty for the sake of justice, especially to make sure they avoid traps set by Ingabire defence counsel.
The court order to pre-submit cross-examination question for adequate preparation was not backed by legal aspects obligating defence counsel to do so. Barrister Ian Edwards asked why the cross-examinees could not take a few questions right away since they insisted they knew the truth. He also asked why the prosecution was preventing the witnesses from answering a few questions to which they already had direct answers so that the court could only filter for preparation with regard to those they did not have direct answers for.
The presiding judge rejected the objection and confirmed that such a system of cross-examination is not a must in Rwandan law. The defence may only ask questions about any topic discussed in this hearing if they need more information.
With regard to the court and the prosecutor’s behaviour throughout these proceedings it is quite impossible to attest that Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza may get a fair trial.