Arusha, 22 January 2008 (FH) - Rwandan cabinet has approved to widen jurisdiction of the traditional Gacaca Courts to cover all genocide accused persons alleged to have played a role during the 1994 killings.

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However, a bill to that effect will have to be adopted by the Parliament.

"The amendment suggested includes transferring all the first instance trials not yet tried", The Minister for Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, told Hirondelle News Agency over the phone from Kigali.

"It extends the scope of the gacaca courts to cover all genocide cases", added the minister.

Until now these courts have no legal powers to cover "first category" accused persons. The category is made up alleged planners and authors of rape during the genocide. The category includes about 7,500 names.

The Rwandan minister said the proposed Bill would also envisages to cover genocide cases which will be transferred from other countries or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), as well as the cases which could be discovered after the closure of the gacaca courts.

The Arusha-based ICTR plans to transfer some of the cases to Rwanda as part of fulfillment of the requirement by the UN Security Council to complete all pending cases by December 2008.

By mid-December last year, around a million people had appeared before the gacaca courts, including some 800 000 who had been convicted, according to National Service of Gacaca Courts (SNJG), governmental body charged with coordinating activities of the these courts.

The SNJG was still compiling the figures to be able to determine the number of convicted and acquitted persons.

The gacaca courts can deliver sentences up to life, the maximum sentence in Rwanda since the recent abolition of the death penalty.

The gacaca courts are not presided by professional magistrates, but people of integrity within the community.

© Hirondelle News Agency