12.12.07 - RWANDA/GACACA - THE RWANDAN GOVERNMENT REFUTES CRITICISM BY IBUKA ON THE WORKINGS OF THE

Kigali, 12 December 2007 (FH) - The Rwandan Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, strongly reacted Wednesday to criticisms by survivors on the workings of the semi-traditional gacaca courts, charged with trying the majority of the alleged authors of the 1994 genocide.
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After an extraordinary congress held Saturday in Kigali, Ibuka, the main Rwandan organization of 1994 genocide survivors, had denounced "the serious interference by officials of the National Service of Gacaca Courts in the trial process ". According to Ibuka, these interferences aimed at "protecting intellectuals, the wealthy or officials from prosecution for genocide".

"The National Service of Gacaca Courts (SNJG) reached important results of which all Rwandans should be delighted", affirmed the Minister of justice on Rwandan radio. "(...) Those who see things differently are people that are never satisfied (...) all the people cannot see things in the same way but we must avoid exaggeration ", Karugarama continued, warning against generalization.

"The gacaca courts are not perfect because their judges are not angels but people chosen among us", the minister recognized; underlining however that generally, these courts have done "an exemplary work" for the process of unity and reconciliation.

The Rwandan official finally rejected the allegations of interference by the authorities in the activities of the gacaca courts. "It is not true, it is not even possible", indicated the minister.

He stressed that at the beginning of August, the gacaca courts had rendered their judgments in trials concerning more than 700 000 genocide defendants.

These courts are not presided by lawyers but by people designated within the community on the basis of the only criterion of integrity.

They can, like the international Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, sentence up to life in prison.

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