The 1994 genocide was a carefully planned and executed exercise to annihalate Rwanda’s Tutsi population and Hutus who did not agree with the prevailing extremist politics of the Habyarimana regime. One million lives were lost in only one hundred days. It is the fastest and most vicious genocide yet recorded in human history.
The 1994 genocide was by no means the first time that the then government of Rwanda attempted to annihalate sections of the population they believed were opposed to their politics. throughout the 1960s the government of Rwanda launched vicious attacks on Rwanda’s Tutsi population, resulting in a mass exodus into neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Congo. For the first time in Rwanda’s six century long history, a large portion of the people of Rwanda became stateless, and were denied the right to live in their motherland. For the first time in Rwanda’s long history, the Rwandan leadership preached a message of division, hate, and violence to the population, resulting in repeated cycles of genocide.
Other cycles of genocide occured in 1973 and 1979. In 1990, after the commencement of the struggle by the RPF to liberate Rwanda, the government launched yet another cycle of genocide. Between 1990-1994, the bagogwe people of Northern Rwanda were targeted by the Habyarimana regime, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. There were similar attacks orchestrated against people of kibuye, Butare and elsewhere in Rwanda. On assuming power in July 1994, the Government of National Unity made it among the highest priorities to apprehend and bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes. Thousands have been arrested and await trial, while some have already faced justice. The Government of National Unity believes that the people of Rwanda should reconcile after many decades of division and hatred. However, it is pertinent to the reconciliation process that Rwandese feel that justice is being done. There can be no reconciliation without justice.
The sheer bulk of genocide suspects and cases due for trial has placed severe strain on Rwanda’s criminal justice system which is already crippled by poor infrastructure and the death of professional during the genocide. Rwanda’s prison’s are heavily congested, and the cost of feeding and clothing prisoners is a drain on the economy.
The lack of an adequate number of prosecutors, judges, and lawyers to try cases exacerbates the already bad situation. At the present rate, it would take over 200 years if Rwanda was to rely on the conventional court system to deliver justice.
The Government of National Government decided to ease pressure on the criminal justice system by categorizing genocide suspects according to the crimes of which they are accused. Category 1 – the ‘planners,organizers, instigators, supervisors and leaders’ of the genocide numbering 2,133, will be tried in the conventional courts. Categories 2-4, where involvement was slightly less serious, will be tried in traditional community courts or GACACA courts. This new process will significantly speed up trials and sentencing.
The GACACA courts also have the advantage of involving the community in the trial and sentencing process. The Government of National Unity believes that involving the population in the trials can also contribute significantly to reconciliation.
The government has also made it a priority to develop the criminal justice system. Special training has been provided to Magistrates and Judges, while courts around the country have been renovated. A national police force has been created and charged with civil security matters and criminal investigations.
CATEGORIZATION OF OFFENCES RELATING TO GENOCIDE
The Genocide Law of the Republic of Rwanda categorizes the crimes of Genocide and crimes against Humanity as follows:
Persons accused of offences set out in Article 1 of this organic law and committed during the period betwenn 1st October 1990 and 31st December 1994 shall, on the basis of their acts of participation, be classified into one of the following categories:
Persons whose criminal acts or whose acts of criminal participation place them among the planners, organisers, instigators, supervisors and leaders of the crime of Genocide or of a crime against humanity;
Persons who acted in positions of authority at the National, Prefectorial, Communal, Sector or Cell level, or in a political party, the army, religious organizations or in a militia and who perpetrated or fostered such crimes;
Notorious murderers who by virtue of the zeal or excessive malice with which they committed atrocities, distinguished themselves in their areas of residence or where they passed;
Persons who committed acts of sexual torture or violence
Persons whose criminal acts or whose acts of criminal participation place them among the perpetrators, conspirators or accomplices of intentional homicide or of seriuos assault against the person – causing death.
Persons whose criminal acts or whose acts of criminal participation make them guilty of other serious assualts against the person.
Persons who committed offenses against property
- GACACA COURTS initiative is very timely because it will make the following possible:
- It will enable the truth to be revealed about Genocide and crimes against Humanity in Rwanda.
- It will speed up the trials of those accused of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and other crimes.
- It will put an end to the culture of impunity in Rwanda.
- It will reconcile the people of Rwanda and strengthen ties between them.
- It revives traditional forms of dispensing justice based on Rwandese culture.
- It demonstrates the ability of local communities to solve their own problems.
- Helps solve some of the many problems caused by Genocide.
ORGANISATION AND POWERS OF GACACA COURTS
The judges of the GACACA Courts will be respectable people of at least 21 years of age, and elected by people of voting age. They will take responsibility for ensuring orderly and fair proceedings.
The Functional Hierarchies of the Gacaca Courts are as follows:
- The General Assembly
- The Court Council
- The Coordination Committee
The General Assembly
A.) At Cellule Level
The General Assembly at Cellule level consists of all the inhabitants of the Cellule over 18 years of age.
The main responsibilities of the General Assembly at the Cellule level are as follows:
To compile a list of those who died in the Cellule as a result of the 1994 Genocide, as well as those who were raped and those who participated in those crimes.
To compile a list of those who moved away from their usual residential areas during the genocide.
To give evidence which incriminates or exonerates those who have been accused of having taken part in the genocide.
B.) At the Secteur, Commune and Prefecture levels
The General Assembly of the Gacaca Court at these levels consists of representatives from lower levels in the hierarchy.
The responsibility of the General Assembly of the Gacaca Court at these levels is to follow-up the work of the Gacaca Court Council at the same level.
The Gacaca Court Council
The Gacaca Court has a court-council at eqach level. The gacaca Court-Council at the Cellule, Secteur, Commune, and Prefecture level consists of people elected by the General Assembly.
The main responsibility of the Gacaca Court is to try cases.
The Coordination Committee
At each level, the gacaca Courts will have coordination committees composed of the Chairman and two Secretaries of the Gacaca Court.
Powers of the Gacaca Court
At Cellule level: Has the power to try cases of persons who allegedly committed or conspired to commit crimes which fall under Category Four of genocide crimes.
At Secteur Level: Has the power to try cases of persons who allegedly committed or conspired to commit crimes which fall under Category Three of genocide crimes.
At Commune Level: Has the power to try cases of persons who allegedly committed or conspired to commit crimes which fall under Category Two of genocide crimes.
At Prefecture Level: Has the responsibility of hearing and passing judgement on appeals from lower Gacaca Courts.
The office of Public Prosecutions will maintain their responsibility of investigations. However, case files will be sent to Secteurs for distribution.
The Department of Public Prosecutions will continue to supply the Gacaca Courts with evidence on cases where there has been investigation.
Monitoring and supervising the operations of the Gacaca Courts all over the country will be carried out by the coordination department due to be set up shortly within the High Court.
The Ministry for Justice and other local and central government departments will play a role in sensitizing the population to take part in the Gacaca Courts.
How you can help in the process
Seek as much information as you need about the gacaca process from your local Cellule, Secteur, Commune or Prefecture.
Encourage your friends and neighbours to also take interest in the process.
You should volunteer any evidence or information you have about genocide.
Select Gacaca Judges wisely
Cooperate with local authorities to prepare whatever is needed to get the courts operational.
Work openly and without fear to expose the truth.
Genocide trials are being conducted in Rwanda as well as at Arusha by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). A few other cases have been heard in European courts. Over 2, 500 suspects have been tried and sentenced in Rwanda while ICTR has tried and sentenced eight suspects.
Several Category 1 suspects remain at large around the world. The government of Rwanda is keen to apprehend these suspects and bring them before the law.