Can you tell us when Gacaca courts started and remind us of some important dates? Gacaca courts were launched on June 18, 2002 with 12 pilot sectors, one from all provinces and Kigali City. The main factor while choosing a pilot sector was the highest number of prisoners that pleaded guilty and confessed their participation in Genocide against Tutsi because we couldn’t just Gacaca from nowhere, which was the basis. As you know, Genocide is a crime against humanity, and no one wanted his relatives or himself associated with it. That’s why this confessions, people who admitted their role was a key laid the basis. One day after the official launch, on June 19 2002, Gacaca courts started in these pilot sectors. People closely monitored them, especially that that time, Gacaca court were part of the 6th part of Supreme Court but as well other Government unit were following them closely and they come up with the observation that they are viable and doable. That why, only after six months, the pilot sectors were increased to 118 when new 106 ones were added each from the then districts and towns. In all both categories mentioned, the first work within Gacaca context was the Information Gathering (Ikusanyamakuru) that can be compared with prosecution in ordinary courts. As you all remember, one of the responsibilities of Gacaca court was to establish the truth about what happened during the Genocide in each of the cell. Information gathering lasted 18 months and therefore finished with the end of 2003. Which were the administrative entities of Gacaca courts when they started? Gacaca administrative entity were at every level of existing Government administrative entity i.e Gacaca court at cell level, Gacaca court at sector level, at district or town level and then at provincial level or Kigali city level. This pilot phase served as well as experimental phase on the procedure and organizational chart issue of Gacaca court. Both Rwanda and Foreigners closely follow them to identify loopholes and areas for improvement. Thus, upon carefully examining pilot courts, Gacaca courts at district or town level and at Provincial or Kigali City level were suppressed and on the other hand, we put in place two courts at sector level, one being the appealing court. This decision was a result that court at those aforementioned (district or town and Provincial or Kigali city level) courts were far from the populations that even conveying the Inyangamugayo quorum was difficult. Another lesson from the pilot phase was that the number that constitutes the quorum of Inyangamugayo was big and then we decided to reduce it from 19 persons to 14 including substitutes. Another lesson from this phase is the systemic organization of the proceedings of Gacaca to be in a logical order. For instance, in during information gathering phase, the population would start by first listing all the persons who were living in the cell when the Genocide started, people who were killed, listing the number of roadblocks, meetings that were conveyed, thus having a clear order of where they are from and where they go. Gacaca court laws have been amended more than one time. Can you briefly tell us when and why? During the pilot phases, with time, we realized that they were many things that needed to be amended , thus the first Gacaca laws of 2001 was amended at more than 70% on June 19 2004. This last version was also amended many times but it’s still the same law that stills govern Gacaca. In general, all these amendments were meant to make things go better both in the Gacaca courts structure and the proceedings. The 2004 law first amended in 2006 in order to clearly indicate that cell, sector, district and provincial level in Gacaca Context remains of that of before the 2005 reform of Government entities. This was necessary because currently we have 416 sectors while then and in Gacaca context we still have 1545; we now have 2130 cell while in Gacaca court we have 9013 cells. The 2004 law was amended again in 2007 to give to Gacaca Court new responsibilities allowing them to proceed crimes of the 1st category, i.e those committed by politicians like former mayors and deputy Governor of that time, but only those that ordinary people have seen and can witness. In other context, before that amendment, Gacaca court dealt with 2nd and 3rd categories, respectively crimes committed by ordinary citizens and those about rooting. In fact, Gacaca had demonstrated a high standard and we have remarked that we still have more than 77 thousands cases in the first category which means that taking them to normal court would last long. This amendment seeks particularly citizen to give their testimonies against or pro these politicians so that these trials are dealt as well by Gacaca courts. Another thing that came with this amendment was that appealing courts at sector level that had more than 150 cases were given the opportunity to create new courts so that cases are handed as quickly as they can. The 2004 law was lastly amended when as well the new cases handed to Gacaca court were finished and some people were complaining that they wanted their cases to be tried and especially those raped or accused of having raped girls and women during the Genocide, especially that some are still suffering grave consequences including those who were infected with HIV/AIDS. The National Gacaca services discussed the issue with both Ibuka and AVEGA and toured the whole country exchanging ideas with all involved both moral and physical persons. The outcome of these discussions was that Gacaca courts were tasked to trial deal new cases those crimes were still in the first category. Even cases in ordinary or military court that haven’t been yet concluded were transferred to Gacaca court. Given the sensitivity of these new cased, Gacaca National services issued instructions to Inyangamugayo that they chose among themselves people who will precede these news cases about rape during Genocide. Most of the accused persons in these cases were former mayors and other politicians or other influential people that played a big role either in planning or executing the Genocide. These cases were particularly rich in giving further information on preparation and execution of the Genocide. Other key dates are the following: 15/01/2005: Information Gathering (Ikusanyamakuru) phase stated countrywide and ended in June 2006. 10/03/2005: First cases were introduced in Gacaca court in the pilot sector. On the national level, cases proceeding in Gacaca court started on July 15, 2006. In 2008, Gacaca courts were tasked to proceed with crimes of the first category, specifically those cases ordinary citizen were able to give their testimonies against politicians (former mayors, opinion leaders). What steps used by Gacaca courts, especially to ensure equitable trial? There was the Information gathering phase and the case proceeding. Proceeding cases included appealing as in other ordinary courts. At times, even in case a trial had not respected all laws, the whole case was redone and Gacaca courts themselves took the lead in the whole process. How long did one Gacaca case take on average? Basing on the survey which was carried out by Rwanda Center for Conflict Management, it took one to three days to have case finished and most of these cases were done between 2006-2009. What challenges did Gacaca encounter? We happy that Gacaca completed its mandate well but challenges such as people not wanting to reveal the truth especially in areas where Tutsi people were killed in big numbers, in some places people showed negative solidarity whereby some citizens did not want to reveal names of their relatives who participated in Genocide, to some extent this was the case with specific local leaders and churches. Another challenge is that some suspects pleaded guilty of carrying out Genocide related activities like destroying homes or killing hundreds of people alone yet in actual sense these activities were carried out by different groups. There were also corruption cases especially in families that had intermarriages. We had cases where Hutus carried out killings in Tutsi families who were related to them through intermarriages whereby suspects could bribe their Tutsi relatives by either giving them money or promising to cover almost living costs. To sort out this matter, we collaborated with police to bring those involved in corruption to justice, but we also used awareness campaign to show them dangers of corruption to their lives and Gacaca courts. What was the total cost of the whole Gacaca process? The overall cost of Gacaca since it started in 2001 and up to June 2012 when it officially closes cost 29 billion and 652 million Rwandan francs. We are happy because 62, 72% of this budget was raised by our Government and the remaining 37, 23% was gotten from development partners. This money was used mainly in paying for staff salaries, trainings, operations etc. We know Gacaca is phasing out, what’s the way forward and what lesson that Rwandans have learnt about Gacaca? As you may know, there is no time limit to the Genocide crime, so having Gacaca phased out does not mean that all Genocide related cases have been settled, that is why pending cases will be sent to courts of justice through prosecution others will continue to be followed by mediators. Something else that we cannot ignore is that, Gacaca courts played a vital role in reconciling Rwandans because findings published by Humana Right Commission rate reconciliation among Rwandans 80%. Same findings show that most Rwandans now live in harmony and this is a biggest lesson that Rwandans will always attach to Gacaca courts. Also many people from around the world including researchers and students have been coming to Rwanda to learn about Gacaca, once their findings are published, it’s a big recognition of much effort we have put in Gacaca. We have also established a documentation center that includes every document that was published any item about Gacaca, this will also help to preserve our country’s history.
This piece originally appeared in The East African on 16 June 2012. We’d forgive most things,” wrote Graham Greene, an English novelist preoccupied with the themes of sin and redemption, “if we knew the facts.” Rwanda’s community-based Gacaca courts, which close formally this Monday (June 18) after 1.95 million trials in under eight years, have tested that proposition on a grand and unprecedented scale. But precedent offered scant guidance in the months and years that followed the 1994 genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi population, a crime with more than one million victims and an even greater number of perpetrators and accomplices. From a legal standpoint, Rwanda faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge: Prisons and holding cells overflowed with suspects, many charged with acts of unspeakable cruelty and violence. Survivors and victims of the genocide called for justice, some for retribution. Meanwhile, society itself had all but broken down. The legal and political system — along with the constitutional framework upon which it had been built — collapsed under the weight of its failure and complicity. Emerging from the genocide as the poorest country on earth, Rwanda could not rebuild as a country of survivor villages walled off from perpetrator villages. We could not allow impunity or deny justice to the victims, but nor could we let the pursuit of legal redress overwhelm the many other urgent tasks that lay ahead. At that moment, Rwanda’s survival as a functioning state was far from certain; the wound it had sustained too raw and deep to know even whether healing was possible. By 1999, five years after the genocide, fewer than 400 cases had been tried through “normal” courts — at such a rate, it would have taken many centuries to clear the genocide caseload. Accused and accuser alike found no satisfaction in such an arduous and unproductive process. As a practical matter, the Western mode of jurisprudence had been found wanting — and this had become an impediment in Rwanda’s path forward. By the time Gacaca entered our thinking, it was a moral, as well as legal, imperative to find a workable alternative. Gacaca courts were derived from a traditional means of dispute resolution used at village level whereby elders would hear claims and counter-claims between neighbours and come to a decision that the entire community was bound to honour. It was a time-tested mechanism that had long ago earned the trust and respect of the Rwandan people. We adapted this tradition incorporating national rules and guidelines to introduce an element of formality and structure. Across every village in Rwanda, Gacaca courts heard close to two million cases, ranging from property offences to charges of planning and overseeing massacres that took place during the 100-day genocide. Despite a conviction rate of 65 per cent, only 37,000 Rwandans remain incarcerated for genocide offences today; the remainder either served brief prison sentences before release, or were ordered to perform community service under parole. Over its eight-year life, Gacaca was implemented at a cost of around $45 million, funded mostly by Rwandan taxpayers with support from donor countries. Soon after the first pilot courts opened hearings in 2002, it became apparent that Gacaca could offer far more than the swift and cost-effective dispensing of justice. Early fears that suspects and supporters would conspire against a truthful reckoning with history proved baseless. Instead, perpetrators seemed eager to confess and apologise for their crimes, partly in return for leniency of course, but also as a way to reconnect with things they had lost in 1994: A sense of belonging as well as personal responsibility; respect for others as well as self. Over time, survivors also discovered that the experience, however painful, of hearing confessions and confronting perpetrators face to face offered a kind of solace. Even its strongest advocates would dare not have hoped that Gacaca would emerge as such an essential element in Rwanda’s recovery from genocide. In fact, it is impossible to imagine Rwanda’s notable progress of the past decade without the foundation of justice and reconciliation laid, case by case, village by village, by Gacaca courts and the millions of Rwandan citizens who made them possible.