Feb 11

Preserving the Gacaca Archive – An Essential Challenge

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By Aline Umugwaneza, Gacaca Archivist  In 2013, Aegis Trust partnered with Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) to conduct a feasibility study about the future of genocide archives in Rwanda and how best to preserve them for generations to come. The aim was to secure and make them accessible for research, education and historical clarity. Since that time, I have worked with a small local and international team of archivists to assess the archives and work out what can be done to preserve this very important historical legacy. One of these archives is that of the Gacaca Courts. When I first entered the building hosting these court archives, I realised that there was a tremendous amount of work to be done. There were huge stacks of unorganised cardboard boxes. Documents were mixed up, making it difficult to find all the records that form a case file. The physical condition was also not optimal. Handwritten documents with ink pen or even pencil were fading due to heat, water damage and numerous relocations. In the middle of that huge hall, full of deteriorating but essential documents, I wondered, “Where are we going to start?” From there, we conducted regular visits to the team responsible for handling requests to access information in the archive. Talking to these people, we realised that the situation was even more urgent than we first thought. The retrieval of simple data was time consuming and exhausting for the staff. I asked myself, “What happens when there is a urgent request from the Ministry of Justice? How could the team possibly find the case file in time?” It was a stressful situation. To find one document, staff had to abandon other activities and support their colleagues. Sometimes the request from the Ministry was so urgent that the staff failed to find the requested documents on time. I felt sorry for them. I truly understood how their work would be made so much easier if the archives were better preserved and organised. One day, I heard the story of man who had been tried for genocide and found guilty. During his prison sentence he appealed the verdict, but the case could not proceed immediately because it took time to find his case file among the millions of others. He had to wait until his judgment copy was found. I imagined the frustration of someone who found themselves in this situation because of the state of the archive. The exhausted staff and impact on justice gave me the motivation to dedicate my time, energy and care to the Gacaca Archive. I understood that we needed to act urgently to save these records. I knew that I could be part of the solution by helping to digitise, preserve and improve access to the archives. Fortunately, I was not the only one to understand the emergency status of the Gacaca Archive. The Government of Rwanda, through CNLG, has made the preservation of the archive a national priority. Aegis Trust works as an implementing partner. The change is tangible: from three people in 2013, we are now 30 and soon we expect 70 more staff to join us. Some of the main activities undertaken so far include: Digital and physical preservation of the archive Installing 11km of shelving to host the physical Gacaca records Barcoding almost 18,000 archive boxes Acquiring world-class, high-speed scanning machines Training staff in digitisation and organising files Improving the retrieval processes to ensure easy and quick access With a business as usual approach, it would take more than 70 years to digitise the Gacaca Courts documents – 19,363 boxes with more than 63 million pages! That’s why we are increasing the digitisation infrastructure by adding more machines, more staff, and expanding the archive space to meet this challenge. With these efforts, we aim to digitise the archive and preserve the files over the course of the next few years. The Gacaca Archive is essential, not only for ongoing justice, but for the education of future generations in Rwanda, across African and beyond. By working together with our partners, my hope for a future with a functioning digital repository will be a reality. With this in place, information retrieval will be easy and requests will be handled quickly which will serve both education and justice.
Sep 25

Gacaca – Rebuilding Rwanda’s Social Fabric

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By Dr Karen Froming In June 2005, I visited the University of Rwanda in Butare with a group of faculty and graduate students in Clinical Psychology from Palo Alto University. We came to teach about Trauma Responses and Trauma Self-Help treatment methods as well as share experiences about mental health treatment. Dr William Froming and I also taught our students about the Genocide against the Tutsi and the commonalities among genocides in the world. We discussed how each member of a society must be a watchdog for the warning signs of prejudice, stereotyping and dehumanisation. While in Butare, we were honoured to receive an invitation to the Gacaca court that met in the town auditorium each Wednesday afternoon. We had wondered what could happen to bring perpetrators to justice. We knew the architects of the Genocide were being tried as part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha. Surely it would be an impossible job in this small country to hear testimony of so many tens of thousands of perpetrators. My own psychology assessment work with individuals facing the death penalty in the United States gave me particular interest in this uniquely Rwandan restorative justice of ‘meeting on the grass’. Gacaca is the Kinyarwanda word for a patch of grass. For Rwanda, it was the only way they could begin a healing process. Being a tradition-based, home-grown method of tackling community problems, Gacaca involved the community of survivors, accused, bystanders, and leaders of the community chosen by the community. My own impression was that involving everyone in the process had the possibility of re-building a group or community identity. The social fabric of the country that was integral to Rwanda had been completely torn apart by the Genocide. I was so impressed by the struggle, hard work, pain and the ownership of the adjudicative process. While so clearly heart breaking and difficult to see survivors painfully retelling their stories, it was humbling to be able to observe the process. Each member of my group had a student who translated what was being said as we stood in the back of the room. Member of the leadership and judicial committee took notes and managed the crowd of approximately 300 people. Every ear was focused on the proceedings. The sense of duty for Rwandans was evident. I wondered if this could work in our country. Were we courageous and disciplined enough to endure facing each other, killer and survivor, in such a way? The accused stood while witnesses were called, identifying the perpetrator, describing the people who had been killed, the property that had been destroyed and naming others who had also witnessed the horrors. They showed the most strength I had ever seen. The judges asked questions and then followed up with other witnesses. At the end of four hours, testimony had not yet been completed so all would return the following week to continue. This was one case that was taking time and patience to carefully proceed. The survivors at the hearing demonstrated a determination and strength that I do not know if I have. I can say without any hesitation that it was a painful and difficult demonstration of Rwandans’ hope for the future, dedication to the country’s rebuilding, and a courageous step forward. Recovery and justice are hard to come by and that was the first step. It is an ongoing process to work through such unspeakable horrors, but the will of the people is strong and that was clearly demonstrated through Gacaca. In the aftermath of the Gacaca courts, with the rise of genocide denial, the Gacaca Archive is vitally important to preserve. As we have seen recently with the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the dwindling number of eyewitness survivors, archives and documentation are the everlasting proof of what happened. Important initiatives have arisen out of the valuable work of organisations in Rwanda such as Aegis Trust, including the Gacaca Archives project. These initiatives will continue to prompt global responsibility to speak out and take action against genocide and mass atrocity. I am privileged to be a witness to the process of recovery, a witness to the stories of survivors, and to be someone invested in ongoing mental health recovery in Rwanda.
Jan 30

Rwanda has a duty to preserve and digitise the Gacaca Archives

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By Dr Jean-Damascène Gasanabo – Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide On the 11th December 2014 an important conference took place at the Lemigo Hotel in Kigali. Delegates from Rwanda, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and diplomatic corps, hosted by the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), discussed an issue that impacts heavily on the future for all Rwandans: the Preservation & Digitisation of the Gacaca Archives. At the moment, the Gacaca Archives consist of some 18,000 boxes containing over 60 million handwritten pages of unique documentation. Alongside this wealth of information can be found video recordings and audio testimonies on DVDs, magnetic tapes, cassettes and CDs. Together, these materials document the worst tragedy of the late twentieth century and the process that brought justice to Rwanda. They are also a historical source without parallel in the world, allowing an unprecedented and unrivalled insight into the darkest days of Rwanda’s past. They must not be allowed to be lost. Gacaca proceedings were a home-grown solution based on ancient Rwandan justice traditions. The courts, set up in 2001, brought transitional justice to the villages and communities that had been destroyed by the Genocide against the Tutsi and eased pressures on the national justice system, which could not cope with the caseload. Local, elected judges presided over trials where suspected perpetrators could answer accusations levelled against them and be examined by their neighbours and family. All processes were recorded for posterity and testimonies often shed light on previously unknown events of the Genocide against the Tutsi. The documentation was held at the National Service for Gacaca Jurisdictions until 2010, when they were transferred to their current home with the CNLG. The CNLG is responsible for conserving this vital source of information for future generations. At time of writing, the Gacaca Archive is in dire straits. It has been noticed that documents are becoming badly damaged or that the ink is fading away. In addition, there is little order to the archives and documents are often difficult to find, if they have not been misplaced in transit or lost completely. The staff working with the archives do not have access to modern research tools or search aids, so rely on painstaking sorting and shifting in order to respond to demands for documentation from outside. This is a slow process, even with current CNLG attempts to force a modicum of order on the archive by arranging the boxes by place. What is more problematic is that the archives are incomplete – some documents are kept separate – and, more worrying still, there are no back up protocols in case of disaster. As matters stand, the archives are not being utilised to the height of their potential. What could be a shining beacon of knowledge and inspiration is instead a guttering flame at risk of being extinguished for ever. We repeat that this must not be allowed to happen. The archives tell the stories of all Rwandans during the Genocide against the Tutsi, they must be preserved to maintain the dignity of survivors and remember those who were lost. This is even more important as time passes and newer generations lose the direct memorial link to the places and events of 1994. The voices of Rwanda’s ancestors, be they written or recorded audio-visually, must keep telling their tales. For these reasons, the preservation and digitisation of the Gacaca archives has become a necessity. Working with partners from across the world, the CNLG would preserve this vital source of important information, cultural memory and Rwandan history. Digitalization would also open the door to new avenues of research as scholars from across the globe could access the information quickly and easily. Lawyers and jurists would not have to wait months before essential information relating to their case was found, and judicial proceedings would speed up considerably. Families would be able to search for the stories of their loved ones and would have a response in minutes thanks to modern search technologies and information pathways. Rwandan workers would gain valuable skills in IT and technology from the process, and Rwanda would host one of the world’s largest databases of this kind. The information would no longer be at risk of being lost – either through disaster or degradation – and would stay safe for generations to come. Rwanda has a duty to remember and the digitisation of the Gacaca Archives will preserve the memory of the Genocide against the Tutsi for many generations to come.
Dec 10

Interview with the Executive Secretary of Gacaca, Domithile Mukantaganzwa

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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.
Dec 10

After such horror, what forgiveness? How Gacaca forced virtue upon us

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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.
Jun 18

Address by Jan Pronk at the Closing of Gacaca

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I visited Rwanda shortly after the beginning of the genocide on April 7, 1994.  The horror was beyond imagination. I saw terror and fear in Kigali, death bodies in the villages around, mutilated corpses in the river, an endless flow. Death was everywhere; you could smell it. In those years I had been in Cambodia, Somalia, Liberia, Bosnia and Sudan. In all these countries I had witnessed mass killings, but Rwanda was the worst ever. The questions forced themselves on us: Could this not have been foreseen? Why didn’t we stop this? Did we do enough? What to do now? Different answers were given by the international community. But for some of us three points stood out: a sense of responsibility, because we had failed to act and to protect, and feelings of shame a desire to show solidarity, supporting survivors, despite this failure the awareness of a duty to help rebuilding the nation We knew that this would require more than relief only. Causes of the tragedy would have to be addressed; justice would have to be done; revenge and repetition would have to be staved off. Confidence would have to be put in a new regime that professed to do all this. Political choices would have to be made, backing the regime, and supporting the people of Rwanda not only with humanitarian assistance, but throughout, without strings attached. The survivors of the genocide had every right to choose their own path towards justice and reconciliation and to take their own decisions concerning rehabilitation of their society. Project assistance and technical assistance would not suffice. Donors, not willing to take risks and eager to control, tend to choose such conventional recipes. However, the rebuilding of a nation in ruins demands more than restoring capacities. A completely new start will have to be made. This requires general financial assistance, remission of debts, and aid beyond traditional development programmes. So, we decided to help rebuilding legal institutions: the Ministry of Justice, training of lawyers, judicial processes, prisons, identity cards without distinctions between Hutu’s and Tutsi’s, and general budget support for the new government. The need to start anew, from scratch, required a new approach, both within Rwanda and internationally. It had to be based on trust in the new leaders of the nation. Elsewhere – for instance in Somalia, Liberia, Cambodia or Zimbabwe –  such confidence seemed less than justified, because the new rulers emerging after a violent civil war, short of a vision on a sustainable future, were seeking security through oppression rather than reconciliation. Our discussions with the new leaders of Rwanda were intense. We did not always agree. However, complete agreement was not necessary, because serving the interests of the outside world is less relevant than meeting the conditions for the rebirth of Rwanda as a community of people. We understood: it is your nation, your people, and your future which are at stake. The new leaders made clear that they had a vision about the future of Rwanda as a new nation for all people, without discrimination, and that they wanted to be a government for and of all people. They convinced us that they were trustworthy indeed and sincere in their endeavours to start a process of healing. Lessons learned Which lessons have I learned? One: prevention of genocide and protection of people demand early attention and early action, both within a nation and internationally. Early attention and action means ‘early/early’. It also means, first and foremost: early political steps. In quite a few situations in this world this lesson is yet to be applied. Two: the bigger a failure to prevent and protect, the larger the need for by early, fast and adequate action in order to help the victims and to rehabilitate the society after the violence. A slow response, hesitant answers, silence and non-action are bound to result in re-emerging and escalating violence. Three: invest in mutual trust. Take the risk trusting new leaders, who claim to seek an end to brutal violence. Start expressing confidence instead of distrust, and stay alert. Trust may prove itself. Distrust right from the beginning can have paralyzing consequences and turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Four: apply non-conventional procedures in international assistance and cooperation. Five: in situations of mass violence, injustice and killings: go there, see, feel, smell, listen and speak out. Do not only talk in international meetings and conferences. Go to the field, be witness, and respond on the ground. Reconciliation This conference has demonstrated that the decision, ten years ago, to apply an indigenous approach towards justice and reconciliation, was wise. It was the right way to go. I am aware that some politicians and human rights experts living abroad have expressed their scepticism about Gacaca and criticised the choices made. However, I am convinced that Gacaca has been a success. I am not saying this in order to deny outsiders, who had remained silent at the time, the right to criticize. I also do not share the opinion that Gacaca was a lesser wrong. In the circumstances which had emerged after the genocide, which had wrecked the legal system, this was indeed the best option available to try masses of perpetrators of the massacres. However, Gacaca has turned out to be more than just a better option in this regard. Healing a society after genocide demands more than administering justice and halting impunity. Healing requires truth finding and reconciliation, next to doing justice. Meeting these objectives has been made possible by empowering victims and survivors, and enabling them to tell their stories in public, to share these with each other and with the perpetrators. The judicial procedures have been implemented with dignity and honour. Gacaca has proven itself as an honest way to achieve justice, including acquittal when justified, and reconciliation. The system was not perfect. It couldn’t be, if only because of the countless numbers of victims and perpetrators. Moreover, some questions will remain, for instance those concerning the relation between personal reconciliation and national reconciliation, and – more difficult – between forgiveness and reconciliation. However, there is no doubt in my mind: the Gacaca proceedings have made an essential contribution to the rebuilding of the nation, based on justice, peace and non-discrimination. Genocide has been conducted in other countries as well. In that respect Rwanda is not unique. However, the numbers and proportions were unparalleled.  Moreover, pursuing the course of Gacaca was possible because of strong leadership, determined to establish people-centred governance. Gacaca may not be easily applicable elsewhere. Similar forms of large scale transitional justice could perhaps be tried in North Uganda or, in a more distant future, Sudan. May I venture, in my capacity as former UN Special Representative in Sudan, having been in charge of the peace operation in that country, that the healing of Sudan would also require truth finding and reconciliation, beyond legal procedures, and that it would be advisable to call on all Sudanese to participate in such a process. During this conference responsible Rwandese officials have said: the Gacaca proceedings will be closed, but the book will not be closed, because we want to keep the Gacaca culture alive. This is a promise, to be kept. May I ask you to go one step further? Please invest in reconciliation not only at home, but also abroad, beyond the national frontiers of Rwanda. Such a step would not imply a copy/paste approach to Gacaca, but the broadening of the culture, the goal and the mindset of reconciliation elsewhere. Rwanda, its people and its government, can play a role in supporting people centred indigenous approaches to peace, justice and reconciliation also in the Great Lakes countries and elsewhere, for instance in the Horn of Africa.   Rwanda is a new nation now.   The country, its leaders and its people have earned much credibility.   You deserve the respect of the international community (which, having looked away during the massacres, should be modest anyway).   Please, stay on course and help achieving international reconciliation as well.
Jun 18

Speech by President Paul Kagame at the closing of the Gacaca

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Ten years ago we launched the Gacaca courts as our answer to the daunting issue of post-genocide justice and the rebuilding of our nation. Today we gather here to close those courts, largely satisfied that we have achieved most of what we set out to do. All of us Rwandans can be pleased about our participation in the Gacaca process that made this achievement possible, and about bringing it to a successful close. Many friends from across the world, some of whom are here with us to share in this important moment, contributed in significant ways to the success we mark today. And to all of you, we say, thank you. Today’s event is therefore not simply to mark the closure of the courts, but also a recognition of the enduring value of the process. It is a celebration of the restoration of unity and trust among Rwandans, and reaffirmation of our ability to find our own answers to seemingly intractable questions. The Gacaca process and experience has been an important phase in the history of our country. It has been a period when we sought to reunite our nation, inspire confidence in the administration of justice and hold each other accountable for our actions. Gacaca, granted, had its imperfections. It received criticism both from within and outside Rwanda, yet those criticizing offered no viable alternatives that could deliver the results we needed. Despite all this, Gacaca has served us very well, and even exceeded our expectations. It challenged every Rwandan into introspection and soul-searching that resulted in truth-telling, national healing, reconciliation and justice. And it worked because Rwandans largely believed in it. We are still convinced that there could have been no better alternative, and welcome the continued discussion in legal, judicial and academic circles to adapt and improve it. At different times in their history, nations are faced with unique challenges for which they have to make unique choices. Their response becomes the defining moment, determining whether they prosper, falter or fail. If you stick to convention, you may lose touch with reality – which sometimes demands imaginative and unorthodox solutions. Let’s reflect for a moment, on the immediate aftermath of the genocide, and the amount of challenges our country faced, many of which tested us all to the limit. One of these challenges was how to provide redress for victims, hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, and restore harmony among Rwandans. Given the magnitude of the problem, including the numbers involved and limited resources at our disposal, conventional justice as we know it could not deliver the results that we sought. We had three choices: first was the more dangerous path of revenge, or secondly, grant general amnesty, both of which would have led to further anarchy and destruction. But we chose the third and more difficult course of dealing with the matter decisively and restoring the unity and integrity of the nation. We turned to Gacaca, our traditional conflict resolution mechanism, and adapted it to respond to the challenges facing us. Today, Rwandans have rediscovered their collective self-worth and confidence to help us find solutions to other challenges we have. Equally, the value and effectiveness of Gacaca will be measured against the record of other courts, principally the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The ICTR has tried about sixty cases, cost about 1.7 billion dollars and left justice wanting. Yet, at significantly less cost, the Gacaca process has had the highest impact in terms of cases handled, and has delivered justice and reconciliation at a much higher scale. Distinguished Audience; For us the lessons of Gacaca go beyond justice and embrace other facets of national life. Gacaca has empowered Rwandans in ways few could have envisaged. It has illustrated the liberating value of truth. When truth came out in court, from both the perpetrators and survivors of genocide, from witnesses and the community – freely, not at the prompting or tutoring of paid lawyers – it set everyone free and prepared the ground for the restoration of social harmony. It was then possible to genuinely seek and be granted forgiveness. This has been at the heart of our unity and reconciliation efforts, and we are stronger as a nation as a result. Gacaca was an important end in itself, for justice and reconciliation – and in fact, it served a purpose far greater than that. With reconciliation – and peace, calm, and sense of purpose it brings – Rwanda has been able to make progress that is evident. The spirit of openness and readiness to break with the past and start afresh that has been embedded in everything we do will undoubtedly be one of the key legacies of Gacaca. Central to everything we do has been the need to empower citizens to make decisions about what directly affects their lives. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Gacaca where there has been community level discussions and collective decision making, from the vetting of judges, gathering of evidence and hearing of cases to delivering the verdict. It has been a process where the contribution of every Rwandan has been valued. This has led to mobilizing our cumulative strength towards common goals, and restoring respect for the sanctity of life, resulting in increased productivity of our country in many ways. It is often said that in conventional judicial systems, justice is rendered in the name of the people, even when they really have had very little to do with it. Gacaca has been justice literally administered by and in the name of the people.This has resulted in selflessness and patriotism in the citizenry, as exemplified by the Inyangamugayo. It is the spirit of the new Rwanda – bold enough to tackle complex challenges together. Although we are closing Gacaca courts today, we are aware that they have not resolved all problems. Many issues remain outstanding and will be dealt with through the formal courts. I would like to conclude by noting that the legacy of Gacaca will be with us for generations to come because it is part of our heritage. The practice of discussion and consensus – best captured in the Kinyarwanda phrase, “kujya inama” – will continue to be at the centre of our governance and development agenda. Gacaca has achieved what it has because of the contributions of many individuals, organisations, and governments. I wish to pay particular gratitude to our Development Partners, and in particular, the UNDP and the Governments of Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland for their invaluable support to Gacaca’s success. I also extend our gratitude to the many friends of Rwanda across the globe in academia, the media, industry and in ordinary life for supporting the process in various ways. But above all, I want to thank Rwandans for their full participation, especially the Inyangamugayo, for their commitment and dedication to hearing and judging the many cases that came before them. We should all be pleased that today, Rwandans live and work together for their wellbeing and common good as we look forward to the start of another chapter in our nation’s development. It is now my solemn duty to declare the Gacaca Courts officially closed.