In one of the major genocide cases involving Pentecostal Pastor Jean Uwinkindi (also Jean-Bosco), an appeals justice has opted to recuse himself from the bench.
While appearing this Wednesday for start of his appeal at the Court of Appeal in Kigali, Pastor Uwinkindi was immediately taken back to his prison cell. The planned session did not take place.
Uwinkindi’s lawyer Jean Claude Shoshi Bizimana told reporters that he was equally confused at what had just happened at the court. However, the lawyer said his client had at the beginning of his appeals process last year filed application against one of the Justices.
Jean Uwinkindi was a pastor of a Pentecostal church in Bugesera region before and during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. More than 2,000 Tutsis were lured into the church and then the interahamwe militia and government troops were called to finish them by the pastor, according to prosecution.
Uwinkindi fled Rwanda, was later arrested in Uganda and handed to the UN’s international criminal tribunal for Rwanda that was operating from Tanzania. However, in 2012, Uwinkindi’s case file and himself were moved to Rwanda as the ICTR closed.
In December 2015, a lower court sentenced him to life in prison for genocide. Early last year, pastor Uwinkindi appealed the verdict. But as the appeal got under way, Uwinkindi through his lawyer claimed that one of the Justices on the panel would not give him justice.
The Chronicles has established that the Justice in question against whom Uwinkindi wanted removed from the bench is Justice Richard Muhumuza. When Uwinkindi was being prosecuted, Muhumuza was the national Prosecutor General, essentially the in charge of managing all prosecutors.
Uwinkindi in his application opposing Muhumuza said at the time that as chief prosecutor, Muhumuza sent him to jail for life, wondering how fair the appeals process would be with Muhumuza on it.
In deciding on Uwinkindi’s application, the Appeals bench dismissed it sometime later. It said Uwinkindi had nothing to worry about as Justice Muhumuza was serving on a different platform, and that his case would be handled by a bench, not an individual.
For this Wednesday, Pastor Uwinkindi had returned to court for the substantive start of his appeal against the genocide conviction. There was no session, instead, an official at the premises informed Uwinkindi’s lawyer that no session was taking place.
Uwinkindi was immediately driven back to prison. It took the lawyer sometime to figure out what was going on. It is then that he found out the session didn’t take place because the Appeals bench was awaiting to be fully constituted as one Justice had recused himself.
The particular Justice who removed himself from the case has not been named, as is the practice that Judges and Justices are not named in public. It is only the accused and prosecution who know the names of judges handling the case.
The Chronicles was informed that immediately following the initial protest by Uwinkindi against Justice Muhumuza, and subsequent application, the Justice decided to step off the bench.
Muhumuza was Prosecutor General from 2013 to early December 2016. He was immediately appointed to Supreme Court bench. In July 2018, Muhumuza was appointed to the then newly created Court of Appeal.