ASF appeals to lawyers for Rwanda project

Avocats sans Frontieres (ASF) has stepped up efforts to recruit lawyers to take part in genocide trials in Rwanda.

The Brussels-based organisation has asked the International Bar Association, the Union Internationale des Avocats, and some national Bar associations to help find French-speaking lawyers prepared to stay in the war-torn country for at least a month.

Jacques Van Gelder, ASF's vice-president, said that the organisation wanted to create a reserve of lawyers prepared to go to the country: “It is a very difficult project to handle, as lawyers come and go and we have to organise that.”

At any one time, the ASF has 10 lawyers mostly French, Belgian or French-speaking African based in the Rwandan capital Kigali under its local project, Justice pour Tous.

The project was launched at the end of 1996 and is aimed at overcoming the shortage of skilled criminal lawyers in a country devastated by civil war.

Then, Van Gelder noted, Rwanda had no Bar association although one was set up in September last year and many local lawyers were killed or escaped to neighbouring countries during the conflict.

ASF lawyers take part exclusively in genocide trials before the Rwandan courts acting for both defendants and victims and Van Gelder said he believed that proceedings were conducted in a fair way.

But he added that the work can be dangerous, particularly because victims did not always understand that the accused had the right to be defended.

“Even if there haven't been any real threats or trouble, there is always the risk,” he warned.