Rwanda-Denmark:Legal and Humanitarian Challenges in The Case of Wenceslas Twagirayezu

Wenceslas Twagirayezu

On Monday, May 13, 2024, Wenceslas Twagirayezu, recently acquitted by Rwandan courts of genocide charges, appeared before the Court of Appeal to demand the enforcement of the agreements between Rwanda and Denmark that facilitated his extradition. During the hearing, Twagirayezu expressed his distress over his precarious living conditions since his release from prison.

Before the hearing commenced, Twagirayezu informed the Court of Appeal that he faced significant difficulties that could impact the conduct of his appeal trial. He emphasized the need to ensure his security and living conditions to allow him to defend himself properly.

Twagirayezu explained that, following his acquittal by the High Court, the Danish embassy was prepared to repatriate him as a Danish citizen, but this has not materialized. He mentioned that the prosecution insisted on the necessity of discussions before any action could be taken.

He also accused Rwanda of failing to honor the agreements made with Denmark before his extradition, claiming to live in undignified conditions and suffering from hunger.

Since his release, the prosecution has immediately appealed the decision, forcing Twagirayezu to change residences more than twenty times as his relatives grew weary of housing him. He denounced the inaction of the relevant authorities, who promised to resolve his issue without any concrete follow-up.

During the hearing, the judge sought to understand if these conditions had particularly affected him. Twagirayezu summarized his situation by declaring that he lived “like a vagabond.” His lawyers, Bruce Bikotwa and Félicien Gashema, asserted that Rwanda, as a state governed by the rule of law, must respect international agreements to ensure the security of all parties involved.

They pleaded for their client to be allowed to return to Denmark, with the possibility of responding to judicial summons according to the laws. Failing this, Rwanda should assume all obligations arising from bilateral agreements.

The prosecution, represented by Come Harindintwari and Vincent Niyonzima, argued that the agreements between the two countries should not interfere with this appeal trial. They recommended that Twagirayezu address his issues to the competent authorities for resolution.

The court insisted on respecting the agreements between Rwanda and Denmark. Currently, the prosecution has appealed, dissatisfied with the High Court’s decision to acquit Twagirayezu of genocide charges.

The prosecution highlighted significant gaps in the initial decision, requesting their correction. They stated that the High Court had relied solely on alibi testimonies without providing concrete evidence of Twagirayezu’s whereabouts during the events in question. Twagirayezu’s lawyers argued that the prosecution had not presented solid legal evidence against their client.

The prosecution also mentioned that during the investigation in Denmark, the accused had acknowledged being in Rwanda between January and July 1994, a critical period. The High Court had not considered these admissions in its judgment.

Bikotwa, one of Twagirayezu’s lawyers, compared the tribunal’s lack of response to these pieces of evidence to a Kinyarwanda proverb: “Ukuzimaniye amazi nawe umuzimanira amazi,” meaning that negligence begets negligence.

The prosecution also revealed that Twagirayezu had admitted to supporting the actions of the Interahamwe militias, even if he had not directly participated in the massacres. For the prosecution, this proves he was in Rwanda during the critical dates. Twagirayezu countered that these statements pertained to asylum requests and were unrelated to the current accusations.

The Court of Appeal must examine four key points: Twagirayezu’s presence in Rwanda during the incriminated events, the High Court’s consideration of all evidence, the legality of the acquittal decision, and the nature of potential penalties.

In January this year, the Special Chamber of the High Court for International Crimes acquitted Twagirayezu of genocide and crimes against humanity charges. Twagirayezu denied the facts, claiming he was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, at the time. Since Rwanda began judging genocide suspects, Twagirayezu is the first to be acquitted, while others have been convicted.

Twagirayezu, 56, is accused of crimes committed in the former Rwerere commune, now in the Rubavu district in western Rwanda. Although he is considered a Danish citizen, he remains in Rwanda without being officially registered in the Rwandan civil status records.

During his initial trial, one of the three judges expressed disagreement with the acquittal decision. Twagirayezu is treated as a Danish citizen due to his Danish nationality.

This case highlights the complex interplay of legal and humanitarian issues, underscoring the necessity for both Rwanda and Denmark to uphold their commitments to ensure justice and the welfare of all individuals involved.