One million Rwandans to face killing charges
One million Rwandans—an eighth of the country’s population—are expected to be tried for alleged participation in the 1994 genocide, an official said on Friday.
Domitilla Mukantaganzwa, executive secretary of the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, said the trials, which will be conducted in traditional gacaca village courts, could start next month in a few areas but will not get under way throughout the country until 2006.
“Drawing from the experience and figures accruing from the pilot trials, we estimate a figure slightly above one million people that are supposed to be tried under the gacaca courts,” Mukantaganzwa said in Kigali.
The new estimate of one million indicates the vast scale of the task of bringing to justice those suspected of participating in the killings of 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus massacred in Rwanda between April and June 1994.
The traditional courts are preparing to hear accusations against hundreds of thousands of people who are currently living freely, often beside neighbours whose relatives they are suspected of killing.
The gacaca courts are a modernised version of traditional Rwandan justice.
They were launched in 2002 on a trial basis to try to speed up the ponderous pace of the genocide trials in the conventional courts. Nearly 11 years after the killings, there is a huge backlog of suspects awaiting trial in conventional courts.
There are 80 000 people languishing in jail and it is believed many could die before their cases are heard at the current slow pace. It is expected many of these cases will be transferred to the gacaca courts.
Those deemed to be ringleaders of the killings are to be tried by the conventional courts, while those suspected of lesser crimes will be sent to the gacaca courts.
Focusing on confession and apology, the gacaca courts are also intended to ease the way to national reconciliation.
Under the gacaca system, those who admit guilt before a set date will receive reduced sentences.
Gacaca means “grass”, and it refers to the rural conflict-resolution system used by village communities that would gather on a patch of grass to resolve arguments between two families, employing the heads of each household as judges.
It is hoped the new gacaca will help Rwanda to reduce ethnic tensions. But Amnesty International has warned that the “gacaca may become a vehicle for summary and arbitrary justice that fails defendants and genocide survivors alike”.
Over the past two years, the first 751 village courts have questioned thousands of suspects to judge whether they have a case to answer, and trials should start next month.
On Monday, the number of courts will be greatly increased to 8 262, and the investigative process will begin.
The gacaca courts will be a world apart from the robed lawyers and air-conditioned hallways of the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.
In the 10 years since it was set up to try the masterminds of the genocide, the tribunal has indicted 81 people for genocide-related crimes. Twenty people have been convicted and three have been acquitted.—Guardian Unlimited Â