Anita Mugeni: Criminal Defense Hero of the Day

Rwandan Criminal Defense Lawyer Anita Mugeni

Anita Mugeni

Anita Mugeni, one of the few criminal-defense lawyers in Rwanda (a place that makes Williamson County look almost civilized).

Recently, Anita defended a woman appealing a conviction sentencing her to death. Despite the seriousness of the charges, the court had not appointed a lawyer and the woman did not know she had a right to one. The woman was accused of murdering her neighbor by poisoning her. As Anita discovered, however, the neighbor was still alive.

Anita drove across the country on her own expense to visit the woman in prison. The woman was from a small village and had little education. She was confused and afraid she was going to die. The police had beaten her so severely that she confessed to murdering a woman who was, in fact, still alive.

After consoling the woman, Anita returned to the Supreme Court to study the woman’s file. She discovered that the alleged poison was never analyzed in a lab – there is no forensic lab in the woman’s village. The substance was not even tested on an animal, which is an accepted method of identifying poisonous substances. The Prosecutor and the Court were aware of the lack of evidence and the fact that the woman’s neighbor was still alive. But they pressed on with the prosecution.

At the time, the death penalty had not been abolished. Without Anita’s help, the woman could have been executed. Anita won an acquittal and the woman was released, but there was no way to repair the damage that had already been done. The woman spent three years in pre-trial detention. A widow, she was forced to leave three small children alone at home with no one to care for them. Anita claims that if the woman had access to a lawyer she would not have spent a day in prison.

Rwanda has 300 lawyers, up from about 50 in 1994 after the genocide (“Unsurprisingly, they are often the first ones to be eliminated when political instability, defiance, and conflict undermine the rule of law.“). In June, Anita helped train 80 of them as criminal-defense lawyers.

The American criminal justice system basically stinks, but it’s better than at least the majority of the alternatives, and next to Rwanda’s it’s a paragon of due process. Sentenced to death for poisoning someone who was still alive? I don’t know what a criminal trial is like in Rwanda, but in this case it may have involved dunking the woman in a pond to see if she floated.

Unpaid and unasked, Anita Mugeni saved one person’s life, and she works to teach others to do the same. This is in the highest tradition of the criminal defense bar; for this, she is Defending People’s Criminal Defense Hero of the Day.

(Anita is going to be a tough act to follow. I may never give out another CDHD award.)

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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8 Responses to Anita Mugeni: Criminal Defense Hero of the Day

  1. Thomas R. Griffith (The Griffith Files - 1984 & Beyond) says:

    Mr. B.,
    Ms. Mugeni is truly worthy of such an award and you desrve an” atta- boy” for recongnizing her accomplishments. If you have not already done it, would you consider sending her the award in the form of an engraved plaque & a letter of recognition. It would be nice if she rec. a letter saying that each & everyone of your Blogs followers concur with your choice and we all wish her best regards in her future endeavors.
    Or something similar.

    I won’t go in to my personal feelings about how high I think the Prosecutor should be strung up and I hope that this post & it’s replies remain 100% focused on Ms. Mugeni.

  2. Hiltrud Roudette says:

    WE need more people like Anita Mugeni. Fight justice and help people in need of a good lawyer. We need them here too, but in the US , lawyers are only after money and our system stinks. I am not educated and I only wished I was. Too old now 71. But I have seen too much unjust in this country just because of not having money. Our Justice system needs an overhaul. But how can this happen when the Foxes rule the courts.
    For every new law, they should throw out 9 old once. Lawyers should do for people not having a license to steal. Yes, send Anita Mugeni a plague of Honor. I can just imagine the Vodoo that goes on in her country. Clean up Anita, and make a better world for your people.!

  3. Our criminal justice system may not function as it should, but even at its worst, it’s better than the alternatives.

    Thanks for the inspirational story.

  4. Thank you so much for linking to our blog and for highlighting the brave work of Anita Mugeni! Courageous defenders like her are the people IBJ focuses on, because we truly believe that the capable and well-trained defense lawyer is absolutely essential for an effective criminal justice system.

    Thank you for highlighting our work and I hope you continue to visit our blog.

  5. Thomas R. Griffith (The Griffith Files - 1984 & Beyond) says:

    Mr. B.,
    Seeking your approval to forward this piece, photo, replies & your email address to CNN in an effort to get your award hand delivered via the Red Cross or a CNN reporter.

    I’m sure that their is a trophy shop in Texas that would donate continual services in exchange for an ad. placement & recognition on your Blog. This would allow you to provide 12 (CDHD) Awards per year & then we have to consider those awesome Ass Hat awards. Just a thought from the folks over at PROJECT – Not Guilty.

    • Karen Tse says:

      Thomas,
      Thanks for thinking of forwarding this to CNN. Please also visit our site, http://www.ibj.org. and http://www.justicemakers.net to learn about a number fo very courageous defenders that International Bridges to Justice works with throughout the world. They urgently need your support and I thank you and Mark and all of those who commented on thsi blog for your support. Warm regards,
      Karen Tse

  6. Pingback: Weekend link dump for July 19 – Off the Kuff

  7. NYIRAHIRWA WINIFRIDE says:

    She is a brave and determined woman, i know her, she merits .

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