I was originally schedule to leave Uganda Friday night after eight days on the ground in Africa. Early last week, however, my Thursday meeting in Kigali, Rwanda was pushed back to the following Monday (yesterday) to enable Uganda’s Principal Judge to attend the meeting. This delay served to calm (somewhat) my usual frenetic pace while on the ground in Uganda. I enjoyed a Saturday evening with the family of a member of Uganda’s Law Reform Commission who is, more than anyone, driving the logistical bus in Uganda for the reforms being implemented. I also had a chance to worship Sunday morning with some friends from Sixty Feet, an American non-profit caring for Ugandan juvenile prisoners and orphans.
In Rwanda early Monday afternoon, I was once again reminded of the surprising contrast between life in Kigali and life in Kampala – separated by just forty minutes by air. Kigali more closely resembles Western Europe than Eastern Africa – there are clean, wide, pothole-free roads lined with manicured vegetation, functioning (and obeyed) traffic signals, and modern buildings and shops. Rwanda has recovered well from its devastating genocide in 1994. Critics contend, however, that the economic and political stability Rwanda enjoys comes at the price of free speech and political dissent.
A few minutes earlier, I’d been greeted by at the airport by International Justice Mission’s former Kigali field office director, Lane Mears, who now works for USAID, a funding arm of the US State Department. (Before I left Kampala that morning, I had a good meeting with IJM’s Kampala field office director, Kathryn Wilkes, about potential further collaboration between Pepperdine and IJM). I’d invited Lane to attend the meeting between the Ugandan and Rwandan delegations so he could connect more closely with the players and assist in evaluating the whether Rwanda should consider following Uganda’s lead.
Uganda’s delegation consisted of Justice Bamwine, who leads the High Court of Uganda (trial court) as the Principal Judge; Andrew Khaukha, who serves as the Secretary of the Plea Bargaining Task Force chaired by Justice Bamwine; Betty Khisa, who serves as Deputy Director for Uganda’s Department of Public Prosecutions; and me, in my role as Specialist Advisor to the High Court of Uganda and meeting convener. (Incidentally, Betty is the lawyer against whom I argued Henry’s appeal more than two years ago. We’ve since become friends and she is going to inquire this week about the status of the ruling in Henry’s case).
Chief Justice Sam Rugege headed the Rwandan delegation. When the genocide occurred 21 years ago, Justice Rugege was teaching law in South Africa. At the urging of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Justice Rugege returned home to serve as Rwanda’s Deputy Chief Justice to help stabilize the country’s judicial system. About four years ago, he became Chief Justice. For the past half-dozen years, Justice Rugege has welcomed two Pepperdine summer interns each year into his judicial chambers, and has been a good mentor for our students.
Also on the Rwandan side: the Prosecutor General (who will have a Pepperdine intern this summer); the President of the High Court (counterpart to Principal Judge Bamwine); the Solicitor General; the Deputy Minister of Justice; the Inspector General of Courts; the Inspector General of Prosecutions; the Inspector General of Police; a couple High Court Justices; the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Prisons; and a few others.
After warmly welcoming us, Chief Justice Rugege turned the floor over to “us Ugandans.” I started off with a thirty-minute overview of plea bargaining concepts and the historical events that put Uganda on the path to plea bargaining.
The Principal Judge followed me, providing further depth to Uganda’s decision-making process and plea bargaining adaptations. Andrew then concluded with a report of statistics, successes, and lessons learned along the way. Our presentation last about two hours, and was followed by a lively question and answer session. One of the obstacles in Rwanda’s path to plea bargaining is its Civil Law heritage. Unlike the United States and Uganda whose Common Law legal systems trace their roots back to the British, Rwandan’s system derives from the French. In fact, Rwandan laws are translated into three languages – Kinya-Rwandan, French, and English. Unlike Common Law countries, Civil Law countries combine, to a large degree, criminal and civil cases such that a murder trial would also involve a component of monetary damages sought by the victim’s family. (Those would be totally separate in the United States). I suspect our students serving as interns in Rwanda summer will be called upon to assist the Rwandese in evaluating whether plea bargaining would be an appropriate way to enable Rwanda to reduce the criminal court backlog and prison congestion.
All in all, the meeting was quite productive and I look forward to seeing where it leads.
Once I am back and settled in the US later this week, I will update where things stand in my quest to lose my “amateur” writer status.