(The following blog post is written by Mallory Minter, IPHR's first international intern.)
How the heck did I get here?
That is my thought on Wednesday morning, as I walk down the halls of the Supreme Court wedged in between two convicts.
The prisoner in front of me is very quiet and almost timid. And the one behind me – well, he is definitely the extrovert of the two. As we walk through the halls, he continues to joke with me about how he wants my English-French dictionary that he saw me pull out just moments earlier (the ironic part: when he first saw my dictionary, I had pulled it out just after meeting him in order to recall how to say the word “joker” in French).
These two prisoners, enrobed in pink jump suits, are being retried for raping minors.
On this Wednesday morning, Paulin, the Vice President of IPHR and a well-respected lawyer in Rwanda, volunteers to defend the timid prisoner described above. You see, this prisoner lost both of his parents at a very young age, has no family, and has no money. He has no external support except for what is being offered by IPHR.
You may be wondering why this case was brought before the Supreme Court.
This prisoner, who has confessed to raping a minor, has received a sentence of life in prison. However, according to Rwandan law, he may not deserve it. In the past, he has been tried as an adult for raping a minor – resulting in a sentence of life in prison (the minor was below 14 years of age). But there is strong evidence that he may not have been an adult at the time he committed the crime (two different sources of information are being used in court to determine the prisoner’s birth date; the birth dates identified by these sources differ by three years). If this is true – if he was a minor when he committed the crime — then his penal sentence will be drastically decreased.
Reflecting on this case, I stumble over the ethics of it all. I have many thoughts about what is right and wrong (don’t worry; I’ll spare you of these thoughts for now).
But, putting ethics aside for a moment, I am still struck by two things. First, I am struck by the remarkably generous nature of the lawyers in my organization – it is a great gift to offer your legal expertise for free to people who are otherwise defenseless against the law. Second, I am struck by the prominent need for such gifts.
This last point leaves me both a bit astonished and dazed. Over the past two weeks, I have seen the need and demand for free legal assistance. I have also read many reports that demonstrate this need – such as the one by UNICEF that states that approximately 114,000 children were left without parents in 1994.
However, as I recently relayed to a friend via email last night, I don’t have the full picture. I want to know the source of this need. I want to understand if it is related to events of the past and, if so, I want to know what that relation is. I also want to understand more about the present – for example, how is this need being addressed not just by IPHR, but by other government and non-government institutions?
I still have a lot to figure out, but I know answers will come in time. I will certainly keep you updated.
In the meantime, if you have any additional questions, please ask! It may take me a little while, but I promise to research and provide the best answers I can gather.
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