Doha March 08 : The Qatar Law Forum is held under the patronage of His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and brings together global leaders in law from around the world to discuss the challenge of achieving a global commitment to the Rule of Law and related issues of international legal and economic significance.
In recognition of the need to move beyond dialogue and instigate change on the ground, the Qatar Law Forum coordinates a practical Rule of Law programme and Professor Rugege’s lecture is one of a series of events to be held outside of Qatar.
In 1994 only a handful of lawyers in Rwanda survived the massacres, but justice is now thriving in the East African republic; with a new constitution, Supreme Court and High Court. These institutions are, however, critically underpinned by high levels of public support for the rule of law and confidence in the judiciary.
“Justice was not in a good place – there was no respect for human rights and the rule of law. We started afresh” said Professor Rugege.Rwanda’s Chief Justice, Professor Sam Rugege delivered an inspiring speech on his country’s legal transformation at a Qatar Law Forum event held at the London Muslim Centre. Less than two decades after the genocide which saw approximately 800,000 people killed in a single year, Professor Rugege provided an uplifting message of the giant steps the country has taken in promoting and observing the rule of law.
This amazing transformation began at ground level, with a network of village ‘gacaca’ courts bringing together old enemies and providing community justice for accused and relatives of victims alike. The West was concerned, said the Chief justice, at the absence of lawyers and ‘judges without wigs’.
These local courts processed 1.2 million cases and promoted reconciliation in the process – a new philosophy for a post-genocide society.
Just 19 years later Rwanda has a highly developed court system and infrastructure, with sophisticated judicial training and complaints systems. The Chief Justice explained this has been most marked in the level of public confidence in the judiciary – the 2nd highest rating in Africa and eclipsing a number of developed countries.
The basis for such confidence must be in large part due to Rwanda’s ‘zero tolerance’ of corruption.
“Justice is not for sale” Professor Rugege emphatically announced, citing a culture where judges report bribes and the public are encouraged to act as whistleblowers if judges seek bribes. The system is firmly enforced – judges are disciplined or dismissed if proven to have offended, and in wider society there have been prison sentences for public officials found guilty of corruption.
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