GACACA JURISDICTIONS IN RWANDA, A SOLUTION OR A HORROR TO NATIONAL RECONCILIATION?

Maître Valentin Akayezu

In this contemplative note, I refer to my personal experience of the traditional Rwandan legal system, known as Gacaca Jurisdictions, which were set up to try serious crime of genocide committed in Rwanda in 1994. In this regard, I note that recommendations were made at the International Conference on “Genocide, Impunity and Accountability: A Dialogue on the National and International Response”, held in Kigali in November 1995, on how the nation could put in place judicial structures capable of responding to the judicial challenges that arose in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

Post-apartheid South Africa model and the creation of hybrid courts were two of the approaches explored. The RPF- dominated Rwandan government chose national courts, composed mainly of returning Tutsi refugees, who underwent a six-month training programme to become judges and prosecutors in chambers specially designed for genocide trials.

Before the first Gacaca trials in 2002, elections were held to select judges, known as “Inyangamugayo” or “people of integrity”. However, the practicability of Gacaca Juridictions was not clear at the time. Many people were reluctant to take part as judges in the process of setting up Gacaca courts. I personally experienced these elections at Rugunga site ( Lycée de Kigali) and saw that people selected others against their will to serve as Inyangamugayo.

A few days after the elections, IBUKA, an organisation of Tutsi survivors of the 1994 genocide, published a statement, openly denouncing the elections. IBUKA declared that most of those elected were Hutus responsible for the genocide. Although the elections were immediately cancelled, they were maintained for a trial period in certain areas. The “Gacaca pilot project” was the name given to that. For example, trial hearings were held at Kigali military camp in January or February 2002, in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. I remember that the trials halted after this one-day session.

Shortly after the hearings stopped, the legislation was amended, and the confession and guilty plea procedure introduced into Rwandan law on the model of Anglo-Saxon plea-bargaining system. The former Minister of Justice, the late Jean De Dieu Mucyo, said once, ‘the reason for the large-scale public participation was that the “genocidaires” initially thought it would never be possible to bring them to trial’. However, as Mr Mucyo Jean De Dieu said, “thanks to the hanging of Karamira Froduard and others in 1996, fear haunted these so-called genocidaires, who realized that anything was possible”.

After observing that judicial police officers and prosecutors began to approach ordinary detainees to induce them to confess to the genocide and testify, particularly against educated Hutus, economically stable Hutus and Hutus with the potential for political or social leadership, the secret purpose of the gacaca courts became clear to me:

It was certainly the structurally judicial and systematic extermination of the Hutu community. The unmistakable proximity between these Hutus confessing to their genocidal crimes and pleading guilty and the members and leaders of IBUKA confirmed my contemplative perception about the hidden leitmotiv of the Gacaca courts.

During the speech delivered by the President of IBUKA, Professor Dusingizemungu Jean Pierre, on 14 April 2014, in Ntongwe, Ruhango District, he stated that “they, Tutsi survivors of genocide, the Hutu they love and appreciate, are the ones who show unquestionable willingness to endorse the crime of genocide”. For his part, Kagame, in his remark of 4 June 2013, went too far in stressing at the opening of “YouthKonnect” that all Hutus, guilty or not, commit the crime of genocide. Kagame considers Hutus not found guilty by the courts to be socially responsible because of their affiliation with those convicted by the courts.

The Rwandan government’s official estimate of those guilty of genocide is over 2 million, which means that every adult Muhutu in 1994 carries genocide on his or her shoulders. When people boast about the achievements of Gacaca Courts, I immediately see the underlying truth: judicial execution of Hutus in 1996 and manipulation of confession and guilty plea procedure. Instead of proclaiming a victory for justice, I see it as the victory tool to promote the argument of the winner of the war: “We have achieved the unthinkable”.

But let us not forget that “He who deceives is also deceiving himself”.

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