27.11.07 - RWANDA/BELGIUM- CRITICISM ON THE WORKINGS OF THE GACACAS AT A CONFERENCE IN BRUSSELS

  Brussels, 27 November 2007 (FH) - Historian Alison Des Forges, adviser on Africa for Human Rights Watch, attacked Monday, at a seminar at the European Parliament, the credibility of the gacacas, these semi-traditional courts charged with trying the large majority of persons accused of participating in the Rwandan genocide.
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"It is difficult to say today that gacacas, as a legal mechanism, are credible and will be perceived as such", stated Mrs. Des Forges in a seminar organized by EurAc (European Network for Central Africa, a network of NGOs).
 
The process is "difficult to evaluate taking into account its speed", she initially brought forth. Having come out of its pilot phase in 2005 - the delivery of judgments being generalized at the national level only in July 2006 - it was, officially, to finish by the end of this year but could be prolonged.
 
"It is like a bar that closes at midnight, where there is a rush for the last drink: there is a rain of charges, acquitted persons are re-accused... It is worrisome. It is a train that speeds down the hill without anybody conducting it ", she said to describe the last phase, in progress, of the gacacas, before wondering about its "more political than legal nature".
 
"Recently, a political leader said to me that they had demonstrated much flexibility with justice. Thus, politics can become involved in the procedure and the door opens to accuse or not to accuse somebody arbitrarily ", she judged.
 
Refusing, nevertheless, (without excluding it "for some") to allot to the leaders the intention "to make the legal system a political system of repression", she reminded that one can not neglect "the impact of the basic initiatives: ordinary conflicts - of women, employment, soil, vehicles... - can interfere; there is no need for people on top... And this system gives to those who want to take advantage, at the detriment of others, an extraordinary opportunity".
 
For example, she cited a reform that she believes brought important consequences: that which charged the "nyumbacumi", local administrative officials of ten houses, with the collection of information for the trials. "A radical change, according to the historian, although it was done in a executive and non-legislative manner"
 
"A the beginning, the community was to take part in a public exchange, on the areas, the acts, the accused people, themselves present and being able to dispute the charges. This process was long and certain people hesitated to speak in public. Then it was entrusted to this representative the responsibility to go from house to house or in small meetings to collect this information. And the contradictory and transparent debate no longer exists", she explained.
 
"It is, thus, no longer possible to dispute before the trial, publicly, the fact that this agent places the accused people in this or that category", she added - the accused "being classified" in categories (four, then three since 2004) according to the gravity of the alleged crimes.
 
According to her, it results in a lack of confidence in the gacacas, "as well as on the side of the victims as on that of the executioners": both think that the system is used for "political ends".
 
"The final result will not inevitably be that the poor Hutu will always be overwhelmed, and one cannot say that the poor Tutsi victim will inevitably be heard. That depends on the political balance of the corner", she summarized.
 
Mrs. Des Forges also pointed out the "inconsistencies" of the governmental policy as for the "definition of guilt", in reference to the successive changes in the contents of the categories of the accused.
 
"Then there was a strong pressure on the administrative agents to reduce the number of people likely to belong to the first category [the most serious crimes, tried by ordinary courts, NDR ], she continued. On what basis can a group of administrative agents decide to evaluate elements of accusations? Where is the transparency? And the humans right guarantees?"
 
In response to a question, the American historian also estimated that "as long as the war crimes of the RPF - officially, for Kigali, there are none - will not have been tried, a part will always remain convinced that there is no justice and we will be far from reconciliation".
 
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