On November 10, 2011, the Hirondelle News Agency reported that semi-traditional genocide courts known as gacaca will wrap up their work by December 31, despite 22 cases still outstanding.
“We expect to present our final report before that date,” Denis Bikesha, spokesperson for the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions (NSGJ), told Hirondelle News Agency on Thursday. Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said in May that the report would be ready in December 2011 and that “this chapter of gacaca will be officially declared closed”.
Bikesha told Hirondelle that the 22 remaining cases mostly concern people who were convicted in absentia and who have reopened their cases recently upon returning to Rwanda.
Rwandan law provides for people convicted in absentia to request a new trial if they present themselves.
Bikesha said residual mechanisms currently being set up would decide how to handle cases presented after December.
The closure of the gacaca courts was first announced for 2007 but has been postponed several times. The NSGJ says the reason was the complexity of certain cases and the discovery of new facts.
Gacaca trials began in 2005 in 106 pilot jurisdictions and were then extended to the rest of the country. They have now judged some 1.5 million people, according to the Rwandan government.
Gacaca courts have the competence to try all genocide suspects except top planners at national and prefectural level. They can impose sentences of up to life imprisonment which is now the maximum sentence in Rwanda.
Gacaca judges are volunteers and are not professional lawyers but rather people elected by their communities on the basis of integrity. Some have, however, themselves been accused of genocide, subsequently tried and convicted or acquitted. Some have also been caught at corruption.