free habarugira

The Rwandan government should immediately release Dr Pascal Habarugira.

Dr Habarugira case has been found to have fundamental lack of due process of law including the right to fair and impartial justice, the right to counsel, the right to be presumed innocent and the right to present defence witnesses.

Below is his case background as compiled by the Human Right Watch.

Dr. Pascal Habarugira was a doctor in the gynaecology department at the University Hospital of Butare in 1994 and cared for a number of women and newborn children during the early period of the genocide. He returned briefly to his native town of Cyangugu in May 1994 before reaching Kigali in August where he began work at the Centre Hospitalier de Kigali (CHK). In 1995, he returned to the University Hospital of Butare and took up his prior position. The following year, Habarugira accepted a two-month internship in Paris, leading to rumours that he had fled the country, but he returned to Rwanda later that same year. The rumours persisted, and in 1999, he followed his wife to Côte d’Ivoire for her studies. The couple returned to Rwanda in 2003, and Habarugira resumed his functions at the hospital in Butare. Accusations against Habarugira were made during the gacaca information gathering phase in 2005, and police arrested him in March of that year as he left a medical conference in Kigali.

In August 2007, Habarugira faced trial before gacaca on five counts: participation in a genocide planning meeting, turning a Tutsi patient over to soldiers to be killed, attendance at a roadblock where killings occurred, membership in a crisis committee, and strangling a Tutsi newborn child. On September 5, 2007, the trial court convicted Habarugira of all but the first charge. Five other doctors were also convicted of having
played a role in the death of Tutsi at Butare university hospital during the genocide. All were sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment.

Habarugira appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court had not considered the testimony of certain defence witnesses (including eight genocide survivors who worked with him at the hospital in 1994) and had ignored important inconsistencies in the testimony of several women who accused him. He tried to prove that one of the main witnesses against him was not in the area during the genocide as she had claimed, but the court refused to call a detained witness who could confirm this fact or to summon court records from another trial in which the woman had admitted to being elsewhere.

Testimony on appeal revealed that Habarugira did not turn the Tutsi woman over to soldiers as alleged and that the newborn child whom he had allegedly killed was still alive (and present at the hearing with his mother). Despite the powerful testimony presented, the appeals court upheld the conviction on February 6, 2008, but reduced his sentence to 19 years’ imprisonment without any explanation for the reduced sentence.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which had sent monitors to observe the case, found so many due process violations at the appeals hearing that it wrote two separate letters to the SNJG executive secretary, calling for revision of the conviction. Of particular concern, the NHRC noted:

• Habarugira was forced to proceed with his appeal even though he had only re- ceived a copy of the trial judgement the previous day and he had not had time to prepare his defence;
• Habarugira was forced to defend himself at one hearing despite being ill and having requested an adjournment;
• Habarugira was interrupted repeatedly by gacaca judges and denied the right to introduce letters from persons who could not be present at the hearing;
• The appeals court interrupted the testimony of several defence witnesses and refused to call additional defence witnesses with relevant information;
• The appeals bench included a judge who had testified against Habarugira at an earlier hearing in the case;
• The appeals court did not provide any reasoning in its judgement and did not state the crimes for which it found Habarugira guilty.

Habarugira’s request for revision was denied, first in April 2008 by the local gacaca jurisdiction, and again in June 2008 by the SNJG. At the time of writing, Habarugira remains in prison.

Global Campaign for Rwandan's Rights