13 June 2012

Rwanda: Gacaca - Mission Accomplished

It was not an easy ride, but Gacaca has been a huge success.

This was observed by Domitille Mukantaganzwa, the Executive Secretary of the National Jurisdiction for Gacaca Courts, during the launch of the Gacaca Week on Monday.

She was addressing a news conference ahead of the official closure of the semi-traditional community courts.

The courts have been operational for the last 10 years, trying nearly two million cases in the process.

The Gacaca Week will culminate in the closure of Gacaca operations on June 18, when the jurisdiction will also mark its 10th anniversary.

"We are doing everything possible to have cleared pending cases by Monday so that we can fully celebrate Gacaca achievements as we officially close the courts," she said.

The Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, said without the Gacaca courts, it would have taken the country over 300 years to try Genocide cases under the classical court system.

"Most of the so-called intellectuals - during the discussion to introduce this Gacaca system - had voiced all sorts of negative sentiments, but now its success story tells it all," said Karugarama.

A report by the National Human Rights Commission indicates that a survey carried out between 2002 and 2008, established that 95 per cent of the Genocide cases were fairly judged in Gacaca courts.

According to officials, in ten years of operation, Gacaca courts used a total budget of about Rwf30 billion, which is equivalent to about 2.5 per cent of the funds used by the UN International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) budget, which has handled less than 100 cases in 15 years.

Karugarama said the conventional courts are now ready to handle the remaining Genocide cases.

The majority of the cases - 1.2 million - fell in the third category, which involved suspects accused of crimes of a relatively lesser magnitude such as looting and destruction of property.

The first category comprised the planners, organisers, instigators, leaders and supervisors of the Genocide, as well as those who raped; while the second category included those who participated in physical attacks that resulted into death.

Initially, Gacaca courts had no jurisdiction to try first category suspects, but later, in 2009, the law establishing the semi-traditional courts was amended to lift those restrictions.

Over 1.6 million suspects were convicted, while 270,000 were acquitted. Over 75,000 suspects were tried and convicted in absentia.

Suspects who voluntarily owned up to their crimes benefited from a lenient sentence, and served half the remaining term out of prison, with the other half spent outside the prison doing community work, under the Work for General Interest (TIG) programme.

Mukantaganzwa said there were still outstanding issues related to compensation and recovery of Genocide survivors' property which she said would be dealt with by a special committee to be established.

Gacaca judicial system was introduced in 1999 after a series of high-level consultative meetings in Village Urugwiro between 1998 and 1999, after it became increasingly clear that the cases could not be handled through classical courts.

The conventional judicial system had been depleted of human resources with a number of practitioners either having fallen victims of the Genocide or implicated and fled.

During the courts' tenure, over 46,000 Gacaca judges were dropped and later tried and convicted by the same tribunals to which they sat as judges, for their roles in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Mukantaganzwa said most of the judges were convicted on charges related to looting of property during the Genocide.

It was also revealed during the conference that a total 483 judges were found to be corrupt during the Gacaca proceedings, mainly bribed by relatives of the suspects to acquit or pass lenient verdicts.

Gacaca courts used a total of 160,000 judges.

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