Rwanada’s first post-genocide Chief Justice, Jean Mutsinzi, died last week after a short illness. He was 81. Justice Mutsinzi served as Chief Justice in Rwanda between 1995 and 1999, and was later a member of both the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including a two-year term as president of this court.
The list of Justice Jean Mutsinzi’s legal and other accomplishments takes pages to encompass.
He was elected to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2006 for a renewable six year term, and served as president of that court 2008 – 2010.
He had a Doctorate in Law from the University of Brussels and an impressive number of other legal qualifications. His position on the African Court followed a lengthy term as part of the judiciary of his home country, Rwanda.
In 1994, at the time of the genocide, Justice Mutsinzi had been working in Guinea Bissau as a representative of the United Nations. However, he left that position and returned to Rwanda to help rebuild the country and its legal system in the wake of the genocide.
In addition, he was the leader of the special committee of independent experts that investigated the downing of a plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, President Cyprien Ntaryamira on 6 April 1994. Both leaders were killed in the crash, the event widely regarded as the start of Rwanda’s genocide.
Justice Mutsinzi’s committee concluded that the aircraft was hit by at least one missile fired by a Rwandan army unit based near the airport in Kigali.
Apart from that significant committee, Justice Mutsinzi was the executive secretary of the legal and constitutional commission of Rwanda, a body that shaped the constitution approved by the people of Rwanda in 2003.
He was a judge of the Court of Justice of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) from 2001 to 2003, the Chief Justice of Rwanda (1995-1999) and secretary of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1989 – 1994). Further, he had been the chief legal adviser to the Organisation of African Unity (1982 – 1995).
Among those who paid tribute to Justice Mutsinzi was the current president of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Justice Sylvain Ore. Announcing the death of Justice Mutsinzi to a session of the court in Zanzibar, he said that on behalf of the court and its staff, he sent ‘deepest condolences’ to the judge’s family and to the people of Rwanda. ‘The world mourns with you and celebrates the extraordinary life of this remarkable human rights champion who devoted his life for protection of human rights, not only in his country, but the entire continent.’
Justice Ore said that the African Court would be represented at the funeral, scheduled for today, 29 November.
Rwanda’s current Chief Justice, Sam Rugege, also spoke of the high regard in which Justice Mutsinzi had been held. ‘His contribution to the building of post-genocide justice shall forever be remembered and appreciated,’ he said.
A special ceremony honouring Justice Mutsinzi is also to be held in the main courtroom, Rwanda today.