Following the 1994 genocide, many
thousands of people were arrested and charged in the killings of about 800 thousand
Tutsi and moderate Hutu.
the Rwanda court system and the International Tribunal on Rwanda were unable to
handle all of the cases. As a result, it was decided in 2001 to deal with some
of the cases through traditional justice system known as gacaca. But many have
criticized gacaca, saying genocide is too big a crime to go before the village
courts, or that the courts fail to deliver justice. After handling thousands of
cases, the system is expected to be closed for genocide crimes in June.
those critical of the system is Georgette Gagnon, Africa director for Human
Rights Watch. From New York, she told VOA English, "Since
the early days of gacaca, we have had some concerns with the way the process
has unfolded. In particular, we've been concerned about whether the person
facing gacaca is receiving a fair trial…. The process does not permit the
accused to have legal representation. The person who is deciding the case
generally is not legally trained. And often the substance of the case is
actually criminal in nature," she says.
are specific guidelines for the handling of criminal cases.
international fair trial standards, the proceeding is not fair. It's not
following what the US would call due process," she says.
whether the decision to use gacaca was a bad one, considering the huge number
of genocide-related cases that overwhelmed official courts, Gagnon says, "The
decision to pursue some of these cases or the majority of cases in such a
system as gacaca was certainly not a bad decision. Obviously it was made to try
and address the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were accused of
committing genocide or participating in the genocide. And…there were different
category of offenders."
says some people abused the gacaca system, resulting in unfair trials. Human
Rights Watch had recommended some changes, which she says, the Rwandan
government did not implement.
example, ensuring that the person accused does have some form of appropriate
legal representation, (and) that the accused can bring forward witnesses in his
or her defense. One of the key problems is that the accused often finds he or
she cannot lead their defense through witness testimony. The problem is
witnesses receive no protection from anybody, certainly not from the state.
They are often intimidated or prosecuted by police, by security agents, by
government officials. Human Rights Watch has documented such intimidation," she
says that witnesses themselves may be accused of what's called genocide
ideology. "The person comes forward to perhaps say this person did not
participate in this way in the genocide and that person often finds themselves
ending up…as an accused person before the gacaca proceeding," she says.
Another concern is that gacaca may have failed
in many cases in one of its goals – reconciliation.
certainly might argue that the system of gacaca has ended up dividing people
even further or deepening some of the fissures and tensions that of course
arose during the genocide. Others would argue that in fact it has promoted
reconciliation in many, many cases. I think time will tell what sort of the
ultimate result of the gacaca system is," she says.
Once the gacaca trials end in June,
both the Rwandan government and Human Rights Watch say they will conduct
separate analyses of how effective the traditional system was in dealing with