Until now these courts have not had jurisdiction for the "first category" defendants, which includes the alleged planners of the genocide and the authors of rapes during the genocide. The people in this category, estimated to be about 7, 500 according to the Rwandan government, have been, until now, tried by normal courts. The Bill was voted last Thursday.
The new law only includes in this category the planners of the genocide at the national or provincial level, the cases that will be transferred from foreign countries or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) as well as the cases that could be discovered after the end of the gacaca courts.
Other defendants initially classified in this category, including authors of rape, are transferred to the second category, thus falling into the jurisdiction of the gacaca courts.
This bill, which must still be approved by the Senate, had been adopted by the Council of Ministers in January.
The gacaca courts can sentence up to life in prison. The death penalty was abolished in Rwanda last year.
Work of General Interest (WGI) or community work, as an alternative sentence to imprisonment as well as suspended sentences were introduced into Rwandan law for certain categories of genocide convicts, with an aim, inter alia, of relieving congestion in prisons.
Inspired by traditional gathering at the time when village wise men settled disagreements while sitting on the grass (gacaca, in Rwandan language), the courts are not presided by professional magistrates but by people with high integrity nominated from the community. They have tried until now approximately a million people.
© Hirondelle News Agency