Arusha, June 7, 2007 (FH) - Some 76 371 persons accused of participating in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda have been judged by the semi-popular gacaca courts as of 31 March, it was learned on Thursday from the National Service of the Gacaca Jurisdictions (SNJG).

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Inspired by Rwandan tradition, the gacacas (pronounced gatchatcha), presided by nonprofessional magistrates, are charged with trying the majority of the persons accused of taking part in the genocide which killed, according to the United Nations, nearly 800 000, primarily members of the Tutsi minority.

According to figures of the SNJG, of the 80 125 accused who have appeared before the gacaca jurisdictions as of 31 March, 76 371 were judged, 17 373 were acquitted. The others, 58 998, were found guilty and sentenced to sentences ranging from 3 months to 30 years in prison, according to the same source.

Opened initially in a limited number of pilot jurisdictions, the gacaca trials were implemented to the whole of the country in July 2006-. Until last March, the competence of the gacaca jurisdictions did not extend to the category of persons responsible for the planning of the genocide, those accused of committing rape, renown killers and persons having committed degrading acts on corpses or acts of torture.

After the entry into force of a new law, the gacacas are now qualified to also judge renowned killers, degrading acts and cases of torture. The maximum sentence also passed from 30 years of prison to life imprisonment.

The new law also introduces suspended sentences for persons who plead guilty.

Another innovation of this law is the creation of new gacaca seats because of the great number of people to be judged. According to the SNJG, approximately 800 000 people, a tenth of the Rwandan population, are accused of participating in the genocide.

The department hopes, with these changes, to finish the gacaca trials by the end of the year. Some rare districts, in particular in the north of the country, officially finished their gacaca trials.

During his visit to Rwanda, in May, the High Commissioner for Humans Rights, Mrs. Louise Arbour, invited the Rwandan authorities to make sure that the judgments handed by the gacacas respect the legal guarantees and are conform to national and international standards. She nevertheless welcomed the "courage and the imagination" which lead to the establishment of these institutions modeled on Rwandan traditional justice.

© Hirondelle News Agency