Rwanda closes 'gacaca' genocide courts

Grassroots tribunals tried some two million people accused in 1994 genocide, earning praise for ethnic reconciliation.

    Of the two million people tried by the Gacaca courts, 65 per cent ended in conviction of the suspect [EPA]
    Of the two million people tried by the Gacaca courts, 65 per cent ended in conviction of the suspect [EPA]

    Rwanda has closed the local courts set up to try those accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide in the country.

    Monday's closure of the "gacaca" courts, which tried nearly two million people, comes after the controversial tribunals have been 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," Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, said at the closing ceremony in Kigali, the capital.

    Some 12,100 grassroots 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 convicted 65 per cent of the two million people tried by 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.

    'Difficult course'

    Human Rights Watch said 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".

    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".

    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.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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