Today, The New Times reports, in “Gacaca is a lesson to the world – UN“:
The United Nations has commended Gacaca courts for delivering on their mandate and providing a solution for the complex nature of the cases related to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The praise came as Rwanda prepares to officially close the work of the semi-traditional courts later today.
A statement sent to The New Times from the UN office in Rwanda stated that the Gacaca process played a key role in advancing peace, stability and reconciliation. “Not only did it address the enormous backlog of genocide-related cases and contributed to reducing prison overcrowding, and certainly it also has contributed to peace and reconciliation.”
Gacaca proceedings opened in June 2002 as a response to the overwhelming backlog of Genocide-related cases and the severe overcrowding of the prison system. During the 10 years, Gacaca jurisdictions tried more than 1.9 million cases and according to the UN, these were “far from being “mob” or “vigilante” justice, as many legal critics predicted, about 25% of Gacaca cases have resulted in acquittal.
“The Gacaca experience serves as a lesson for us all…the UN recognised that national or “home-grown” initiatives should be supported, as they have a more direct and sustainable impact on populations” the statement reads. UNDP has been a strong supporter of Gacaca throughout the process, having provided $1.6 million to the Gacaca Courts for manuals, trainings, advocacy, and document important lessons learned during Gacaca process.
“It is important to record and disseminate the lessons learned of this unique process globally. It is equally important, however, to preserve the enormous volumes of rich and diverse repository historical material gathered through the Gacaca process,” the UN added. It noted that the Gacaca Documentation Centre in Kigali will be one of the largest archives documenting a mass crime anywhere in the world and will be an invaluable resource for Rwandans and foreigners alike.
“Even more importantly, it will also be a reminder to future generations to never let it happen again,”
Meanwhile, Survivors Fund (SURF) and Ending Torture Seeking Justice for Survivors (REDRESS) have also commended Gacaca’s achievement but recommended that a taskforce on reparations be established to further consider how to address the gaps with compensations that were recommended during to rulings. Their recommendation follows research findings published this month by Legal Aid Forum- Rwanda, based on interviews with over 2,700 claimants which shows that Gacaca court judgments are the ‘hardest to enforce’, with 92% of all Genocide-related judgments yet to be enforced.
According to REDRESS’ Juergen Schurr; “as Rwanda celebrates the achievement of Gacaca over the past 10 years, it is important to also address its shortcomings, including the lack of compensation for moral and bodily damage for survivors of the Genocide.” SURF’s Legal Advocacy Project Coordinator, Albert Gasake said, “While it is impossible to fully compensate for crimes such as genocide, awarding reparation payments can help to restore the dignity of survivors by acknowledging the suffering that they have been subjected to.”
A joint statement released by the two organisations recommends that the taskforce on reparations could address issues such as identifying the number of compensation and restitution awards that have yet to be implemented. If established, it could consult closely with survivors and survivor organisations in Rwanda to identify their needs and determine adequate measures of reparation. It could also take into account experiences of reparation programmes in other countries, such as South Africa, Morocco and Sierra Leone.
The New Times also reports, in “Legal experts hail gacaca“:
Gacaca judicial system has received a highly favourable appraisal, with international legal experts saying it served as an ideal alternative to the “failed” classical penal systems for timely justice to the victims of the 1994 Genocide. The Government has also said the semi-traditional courts had turned out a huge success over the last decade.
Several legal experts gave their verdict during an international conference on Gacaca courts in Kigali yesterday, as the country prepared to close the community tribunals.
A national event will be held today to officially close Gacaca courts on their tenth anniversary, with over 1.9 million cases disposed off.
Dr Roelof Haveman, an independent consultant on the rule of law in Africa, said Gacaca enabled massive participation in dispensation of reconciliatory justice, with witnesses telling everything they saw, and the accused confessing and begging for pardon. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said at the Parliamentary Buildings, Kimihurura. “By choosing the Gacaca, the trials were taken to the scenes of crime, with the victims, the offenders and the witnesses, relatives, neighbours, all taking a part in dispensing justice,” said Haveman, a member of Hague Rule of Law Network, noted.
Compared to the classical systems, he added, Gacaca implied a real access to justice for those directly involved in the genocide crimes. “For those with over high expectations, participation in Gacaca might have been disappointing. But compared to the classical penal systems and even more compared to the International criminal tribunals, it is undeniable that Gacaca, in terms of participation of the population in their own trials, has been an extraordinary success,” he added.
Established in 2002, Gacaca was initiated as a conflict resolution mechanism to bring about justice and foster unity and reconciliation against what seemed as insurmountable odds, following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which claimed over a million lives in only 100 days. It was also designed to speed up Genocide trials, establish truth about the killings, uproot impunity and to reconcile Rwandans. Gacaca, which held its first trials on March 10, 2005 after a pilot phase, have been operational for the last 10 years, trying nearly two million suspects in the process.
The majority of suspects were acquitted, with many others doing community service, an alternative to imprisonment. About 37,000 prisoners are serving their sentences, Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama told The New Times last week.
“The classical systems didn’t work, and the alternative had to be found. Gacaca is a Rwandan tradition, by Rwandans for Rwandans, where injustice was committed by Rwandans against Rwandans,” added Haveman.
Dr. Phil Clark, a lecturer in comparative and international politics with reference to Africa, recalled that in 2003 when thousands of Genocide convicts were released, there were fears among both convicts and victims on how they would live side by side. “It is remarkable now, to get to the end of Gacaca process, which initially was feared by both parties, and to see that many of those uncertainties and fears have been dealt with,” said Clark. Dr Phil Clark is a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and co-founder of Oxford Transitional Justice Research. He pointed out truth, justice and unity and reconciliation as the major achievements of Gacaca.
An Australian by nationality, Clark is a political scientist specialising in conflict and post-conflict issues in Africa, particularly questions of peace, truth, justice and reconciliation. “Many of the predictions we had, particularly the international critics, that this release of prisoners back home and the use of Gacaca would lead to mass violence and chaos, have not manifested…we actually find ourselves in a very different situation today,” Clark said. “It has been extremely impressive to see what Gacaca has been able to achieve.”
He, however, noted that Gacaca produced some challenges, such as trauma resulting from telling the truth, wrongly acquittals and compensation of the victims, which should be focused on sustained unity among Rwandans. “However the positive side far outweighs the negative side; Rwanda took a much more courageous option to confront the legacy of the Genocide very early; to acknowledge that crimes were committed and trying to do something constructive about it. “Gacaca became a space where individuals told their personal stories about what they went through in 1994, and this was much more than just a legal fact,” he explained. Clark criticised international rights groups for faulting Rwanda over Gacaca yet they couldn’t provide a solution, adding that amnesty wouldn’t have worked for Rwanda’s case either.
Prime Minister Dr Pierre Habumuremyi, who presided over the event, said that the Genocide left the Rwandan social fabric deeply scarred, with all structures, including the justice system, destroyed. This, he said, left a vacuum in the legal system since many legal practitioners had either fled owing to their role in the Genocide or had been killed, yet the backlog of Genocide cases was overwhelming. Prosecuting the suspects would have taken hundreds of years, he said.
“Gacaca courts responded to the fundamental right to justice for the victims of the Genocide and the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time for the suspects. We, as Rwandans, are happy today as we celebrate the remarkable achievements of Gacaca courts, thanks to the commitment and participation of all segments of Rwandan society,” said the Prime Minister.
Gacaca, the PM added, was not meant to be a mere extension of the judicial process, rather a way of achieving social cohesion and reconciliation among Rwandans as a means of rebuilding of Rwandan society. He lashed out at critics, who he said blindly opposed Gacaca courts without providing alternative solutions. “As our goals were well clear, we managed to overcome these obstacles and celebrate not only the end of judicial proceedings, but also the wider impact of justice on the reconciliation process and nation building.”
The conference, which was held under the theme “Gacaca: Foundation for Justice and Reconciliation”, brought together researchers, human rights activists, legal experts, politicians, among others. A report by the National Human Rights Commission, conducted between 2002 and 2008, established that 95 per cent of the Genocide cases were fairly judged in Gacaca courts.
According to officials, over the ten years of its operation, Gacaca courts used a total budget of 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.
Speaking during an exclusive interview with The New Times last week, Minister Karugarama largely attributed Gacaca success to the hard work of Rwandans, including those who served as judges as well as the ordinary citizens who provided vital testimonies that informed proceedings and rulings. “The determination to do what is right irrespective of what other people think, the innovation and most importantly the spirit of volunteerism because the Gacaca judges were not remunerated, the fellows who organised the hearings at the sector level were not paid anything,” Karugarama, also the Attorney General, said.
“There was also volunteerism, resilience and determination by the leaders to do what was right for Rwandans and not what is fashionable or not following the way others do it but that we can do something different or be different as long as we do what is right.”
Asked about the issue of reparation claims by survivors, Karugarama said that the convicts who were found capable of paying had paid accordingly. “Rwandans should be fair because you cannot give more in Gacaca courts than you do in ordinary courts, you can’t give in Rwanda what is not given in other countries…when a convict has no capacity to pay, there is nothing that can be done. “If they go to execute a case and find that there is nothing to pay, the loser is worse off than you, in all cases in the courts, not only in Gacaca courts, if someone has nothing to pay, he has nothing to pay.”
He also said a mechanism had been devised to settle unresolved issues after the closure of Gacaca, but urged Rwandans to celebrate what he termed as a successful completion of Gacaca trials. “I just want Rwandans to feel proud of their achievements; I want them to be happy and to celebrate their victory. I want them to celebrate the victory of truth against lies, the determination of Rwandans to sort the problems themselves; I want them to celebrate peace and security of our country. I want them to celebrate justice that was fair and transparent, and by and large, a successful story of the Rwandan journey,” said Karugarama.
The majority of the Gacaca 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.