Yesterday, Sweden’s Minister of Justice announced that her country will extradite Sylvere Ahorugeze, a 53-year-old former director of Rwanda's civil aviation authority, to stand trial in Rwanda for charges of genocide (available here).
This is the first European extradition to Rwanda of a genocide suspect. Over the lasat year, several other countries – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland – have refused to extradite, largely on the impetus of rulings of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The International Tribunal has refused to authorize the transfer of several suspects that it would prefer not to try itself, because it is trying to wrap up its work (the so-called 'completion strategy). Its judges set a very high standard, arguably one that is greater than what should be required for extradition. They insisted that Rwanda, an impoverished third world country, provide a witness protection programme for defence witnesses that would not exist in most European countries, and dismissed Rwanda's proposed solution to address the problem of reluctant defence witnesses living abroad, which was to hear them using videoconference, as being unfair. Be that as it may, the unintended consequence of these recent rulings of the International Tribunal, spurred on by certain human rights NGOs, has been to enhance impunity, not reduce it. Several genocide suspects, including four in the United Kingdom, have simply been released.
Now Sweden has had the courage to take the lead in sending a suspect back to Rwanda. The ministerial decision follows a ruling by Sweden’s Supreme Court in late May authorizing the extradition. The Swedish judges were well aware of the case law of the International Tribunal. Announcing the extradition, the justice minister referred to general improvements in Rwanda's justice system and legislative reforms, some of them adopted in the last few months.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is likely to revisit the matter of transferring cases to the Rwandan courts in the coming months. A few weeks ago, I heard Prosecutor Jalloh speak in The Hague about his plans to reapply for authorization to transfer cases to Rwanda. He explained that Rwanda had made important changes to its legislation, and to its witness protection programme. These reforms address the objections of the judges. Prosecutor Jalloh said the same thing yesterday at a conference in Geneva that I am attending. Moreover, at the conference in The Hague, President Byron of the Tribunal spoke of the new applications in a positive manner (although within the bounds of judicial discretion, of course).