Auke Lootsma: Opening Speech for the training of Rwandan judges on the application of International Human Rights law in national courts

28 Jan 2013

Honorable Chief Justice,

Honorable Judges,

Distinguished Chairperson of the National Commission for Human rights,

Representatives of the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD)

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I am very pleased to be here today for the opening of this workshop on the application of International human rights law in national courts.

Encouraging respect for human rights is a fundamental purpose of the United Nations under its Charter. Alongside peace, security and development, Human Rights constitute one of the three pillars of the United Nations.

The judiciary is at the cornerstone of Human Rights protection in every democratic country. One should remember that given the fundamental right to a fair trial, every legal case is per se a human rights case; therefore, there can be no Justice without Human rights reference, respect and compliance.

In Rwanda, the 2003 Constitution establishes, in its Article 44, the Judiciary as “the guardian of rights and freedoms of the public”. Therefore, under this article an independent and enabled judiciary  is a prerequisite for the protection Human Rights in Rwanda.

History has provided us with multiple examples of the ultimate protection guaranteed through the exercise of judicial power towards promoting human rights. In particular, we should recall the fundamental role played by the Supreme Court in ending racial segregation in the USA. In 1954, in the case of an individual, Mr Brown, against the national board of education, the US Supreme Court stated that the separation of educational facilities on a racial basis was inherently unequal with regards to the Equal Protection Clause of the United States’ Constitution. With this decision the court had ruled against segregation and outlawed an established governmental policy. This decision paved the way for the comprehensive suppression of racial segregation in the USA, and the dramatic expansion of civil liberties that followed.

I believe that this example teaches us two main lessons. First of all, there is no real Justice without the effective independence of the institution that delivers it. Second, governments are representatives of the sovereign peoples, and consequently  have to abide by the rules. Therefore, the Judiciary is a counterweight to the executive and legislative power, its expertise in the interpretation of norms makes it the cornerstone of accountability and Rule of Law in any democracy.

Indeed, the Rule of Law is based on the norms’ hierarchy. The Constitution prevails over Laws, Laws prevail over executive edicts and so on. In Rwanda, as in many other countries, International Law has precedence over national laws. This is entrenched in Article 190 of the Rwandan Constitution. As a consequence, the actions of institutions, individuals, groups of individuals and governments have to be measured against their compatibility to both the Constitution and the International Treaties that have been ratified. This specificity of the Rwandan legal system adds another safeguard to the respect of the rights of citizens; it is the role of the Judiciary to make use of this International Law in order to fulfill its constitutional mandate.

In this regard, the UN has developed a whole set of international human rights conventions, which beyond abstract principles, establishes concrete legal obligations for states that have ratified them. The implementation of these human rights norms will not be comprehensive until these principles are used in national and international courts.

Rwanda has ratified the core International Human Rights Treaties, and has waived most of the reservations to the same.  Together with the Preamble and the Title II of the Rwandan Constitution, these International Treaties provide every citizen of Rwanda with a comprehensive, legally binding and available protection of their rights before national courts. It is then crucial that these courts are able to make use of the International Laws.

The strengthening of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law is one of the major objectives of Rwanda’s development strategy.  Access to Justice for all and the skills of judicial personnel is at the heart of this strategy in order to guarantee a protection of every one’s rights.

One should also note that in January 2011, Rwanda made a major step forward towards human rights compliance by submitting itself to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Created by the UN General Assembly, the UPR is a unique process involving the periodic review of the human rights situations of all 193 UN Members States in an open and participatory manner. The UPR is an asset for every country, because it does not isolate or condemn a state, but rather helps to improve its entire legal system by highlighting the weaknesses likely to affect the functioning of a democratic society.

The Government of Rwanda adopted 67 out of the 73 recommendations made during this peer review. Among those recommendations, the needs to pursue the Justice-reform and to strengthen the independence of the Judiciary were expressed and then acknowledged by the government of Rwanda.

This training for the judges is a result of the roadmap established by the inter-ministerial taskforce in charge of implementing the recommendations of the UPR. Therefore, the One UN Rwanda is hereby contributing to the gaps expressed by the Government and, through this partnership with the Supreme Court, provides its input to the construction of an independent judicial system in the country.

Additionally, One UN Rwanda carried out trainings for members of the Kigali Bar Association to ensure that the demand of Justice factors in the claim for human rights protection. It is upon the Judiciary to ensure that these demands will be heard and treated in accordance with the norms prevailing in the country whether they originate from the Constitution or International treaties.

I sincerely thank each and every participant and facilitator of this training and wish you all the best in this important workshop.

Thank you

For more information on this, please contact:

romain.ravet@undp.org. OHCHR - Rwanda

For more details on the work of OHCHR, please visit their website
Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights