Case Story I -You Brought Me Back to Life
Verdiane, a Rwandan mother of four, was arrested after being arbitrarily accused of spreading ethnic hatred.
Verdiane was tried before the Trial Court, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Not only did she find the separation from her children unbearable, but the poor conditions in which she was detained led to compromised health and several hospital visits. However, Verdiane did not lose hope and asked a prison officer to help her find legal assistance.
She was eventually put into contact with Aline Niyodusenga, a young lawyer originally from Kigali working with IBJ. Aline immediately agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis, and took over Verdaine’s appeal at the High Court.
Thanks to Aline’s intervention and the strong case she presented in court, which highlighted the lack of actual evidence against her client and the contradictions present in the witnesses’ evidence, the High Court acquitted Verdaine of all charges and ordered her immediate release. Verdaine was reunited with her children after three long years of absence.
Case Story II – A Lawyer’s Intervention Changes a Life
In partnership with the Kigali Bar Association, IBJ regularly conducts legal skills workshops for lawyers. Many of these lawyers then go on to volunteer their services with IBJ in various capacities. One such lawyer, Jacques Karamira, has been offering his services by conducting regular prison visits on behalf of IBJ.
During one recent visit, Jacques encountered Alex, a 28-year-old married father of five, who had been languishing in pretrial detention for 16 months before an IBJ lawyer was allowed to help him. Accused of a robbery he did not commit, Alex reported that police arrested him without warning, denied him any contact with his family, and subjected him to severe beatings, forcing him to confess.
After a year in prison awaiting justice, Alex was granted his day in court only weeks after Jacques became involved in the case. At trial, Alex described his entire ordeal in open court. He recounted his torture, both mental and physical, and renounced the false confession that police had extracted. As the prosecution had no evidence to corroborate the charges, the court found him innocent.
Exonerated at last, Alex gained immediate release, allowing him to finally return to his family.
Alex’s story is sadly quite common. Approximately 26 percent of the entire prison population in Rwanda is in pre-trial detention, cut off from family, unable to afford counsel, and mixed in with the larger population of convicted prisoners.