In March 2010, an IBJ lawyer received a troubling phone call from a Ugandan acquaintance. He was expressing his distress for a 34-year-old Ugandan who had just been convicted of homicide, despite the serious legal deficiencies which marred the procedure. Crushed by this all too common story of injustice, the IBJ lawyer knew he had to do something.
Unemployed then, the accused had accepted to drive a family of Ugandans to Rwanda for a wedding. Unfortunately, while he was driving, he got involved in a car accident which tragically ended up taking the life of a Rwandan girl and injured two other persons. Horrified by the accident, the family who had hired him ran away.
The man was taken to the police where he was interrogated in a language he does not speak nor understand. He was then brought to court, unrepresented. The person who was supposed to act as an interpreter during the hearing got held in contempt and thrown out of the Court room. Defenseless, the accused was convicted of homicide. He was then brought to a remand prison in the north of the country, where he was further subjected to mental anguish, already exacerbated by the tragic accident and surreal investigation and court appearances. Breadwinner of the family, he left a wife and two young children in despair.
When the IBJ lawyer heard about his case, the accused had just been convicted. Not discouraged, the IBJ lawyer contacted an IBJ volunteer lawyer based in the Northern province and arranged for him to meet with the accused. The volunteer lawyer met with the accused and reassured him that people were working on his case.
The accused accepted to sign a letter of appeal which was brought to the President of the Court of Appeal of Rwanda. The decision of the Court of Appeal left a bitter taste in the IBJ lawyer’s mouth. The appeal date was scheduled for March 2012. Galvanized by this new injustice, the IBJ lawyer actively lobbied the Judge and filed additional letters to the Court of Appeal to get an earlier date of trial. He finally succeeded in obtaining a hearing on November 18th 2010 and the same day obtained his full acquittal. The man was able to go back to Uganda where he was reunited with his wife and two young children. If it wasn’t for the perseverance of IBJ lawyers, he would most certainly still be in remand prison with little hope of recovering his freedom.