The 1994 Rwandan genocide has come to be known as one of the darkest periods in the history of the world. Fifteen years later the Rwandan government is still dealing with the legacy of the appalling accounts. The plight for justice is not an easy one; reconciliation must accompany it ultimately for genuine peace. Genocide laws were passed categorising criminals into four main groups.
The first lot consists of those suspected to have planned, instigated, led or supervised the genocide. The second comprises of those suspected to have participated in physical acts that caused the death of others. The third group consists of those who participated in assaults that did not lead to the death of any individuals. The fourth encompasses those who took advantage of the chaos and took the opportunity to loot and engage in activities that led to the destruction of property.The Gacaca tribunals were formed as an alternative to national justice system. The killing of many judges and prosecutors in the skirmishes led to the destruction of the country’s judicial infrastructure. These tribunals deal largely with the suspects that fall under the second and fourth category. These people make up the bulk of the genocide perpetrators. The situation in Rwanda is such that the number of suspects almost match the number of victims. This means that the number of people on trial meet sums that are unfathomable.
Gacaca derives its name from a type of short grass named Umacaca. There is the school of thought that believes that the naming of the tribunals is as such because it is conducted in open spaces. Traditionally, select elders would come together to adjudicate disputes between members of the community. They would sit on the grass and listen to the various parties plead out their cases. Gacaca was thus coined to mean “judgement on the grass”. This seems to still be the structure the modern day Gacaca has held on to. Suspects stand before members of their community and confess their crimes as an elected panel of judges listens on. Witnesses also come forth with whatever information that they may be privy to. The method employed by the Rwandan government to deal with the issue of justice has come under a lot of criticism from across the globe. The tribunals are not devoid of their short comings. They rely heavily on the participation of the people. This is an issue because there are still cases within which witnesses are intimidated and suspects give weak confessions for fear of incriminating others.
The cornerstone of these tribunals unfortunately is the witness accounts and confessions. However credit should be given for their efforts in reuniting the offenders and their communities. This has got to be the most daunting task for the committees.
Once the panel has served its verdict they include a work program in the sentence that is meant to integrate the offenders back into the community. The tribunals may also be buckling under the weight of the amount of cases that they have to deal with. They were meant to come to a close by June 2009; this was however pushed to the close of the year. This still seems unlikely and the closing time has yet again been pushed forward to an undisclosed time in the year 2010. The effectiveness of the tribunal can only be determined after its conclusion.
The results will not be immediate. All the same the entire world is holding it’s breath for a stable Rwanda.
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