Rwanda closes community genocide courts

2012-06-19 20:49
Rwandan president Paul Kagame holds a press conference in Kigali, Rwanda. Rwandans voted him for president Monday (9 Aug, 2010) for the second time since the country's 1994 genocide, an election that comes amid a string of attacks on political oppone

Rwandan president Paul Kagame holds a press conference in Kigali, Rwanda. Rwandans voted him for president Monday (9 Aug, 2010) for the second time since the country's 1994 genocide, an election that comes amid a string of attacks on political oppone

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Kigali - Rwanda on Monday officially closed the "gacaca" community courts, the controversial tribunals both credited with easing tensions and criticised for possible miscarriages of justice.

"Today's event is not simply to mark the closure of the courts, but also to recognise the enduring value of the process," President Paul Kagame said at the closing ceremony in Kigali.

"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," he said, according to a presidency statement.

About 12 100 grass-roots gacaca courts, inspired by onetime village gatherings in which elders would adjudicate disputes, have tried the vast majority of suspects in the 1994 genocide that killed about 800 000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis.

Since being set up in 2001 the tribunals have tried nearly two million people, convicting 65% of them.

The gacaca were introduced to reduce the backlog of genocide cases that threatened to swamp the country's traditional court system after the weeks-long genocide. They were also meant to foster national reconciliation.

Allegations of misuse

But they had also been criticised, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) saying last year that violations included "restrictions on the accused's ability to mount an effective defence; possible miscarriages of justice due to using largely untrained judges; trumped-up charges, some based on the Rwandan government's wish to silence critics".

HRW, which monitored the trials since they began, also cited misuse of the trials "to settle personal scores; judges' or officials' intimidation of defence witnesses; and corruption by judges and parties to cases".

The group said however that the system's achievements included "swift trials with popular participation, a reduction in the prison population, a better understanding of what happened in 1994" and helped with locating bodies of victims and "a possible easing of ethnic tensions".

Kagame defended the tribunals at Monday's ceremony.

"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," he said.

"But we chose the third and more difficult course of dealing with the matter decisively and restoring the unity and integrity of the nation."

Repeatedly pushed back

"It received criticism both from within and outside Rwanda, yet those criticising offered no viable alternatives that could deliver the results we needed."

The official close of the courts had been repeatedly pushed back.

The suspected masterminds of the genocide have been tried in the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR) in the north Tanzanian town of Arusha.

Other Rwandan officials, whose cases were not deemed serious enough for the ICTR, were for some years tried only in Rwanda's traditional court system. An amendment to the law allowed them to also be tried in the gacaca.

Read more on:    paul kagame  |  rwanda  |  genocide  |  east africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.