Arusha, 17 April 2008 (FH) - The Rwandan senate has began debating since Tuesday a Bill aimed at widening the jurisdiction of the semi-traditional Gacaca courts, charged with trying alleged persons responsible for the 1994 genocide, according pro-governmental Rwandan newspaper, The New Times.

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Voted at the beginning of this month by the Chamber of Deputies, the bill was tabled before the senators by the Minister for Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama.

Until now the semi-traditional courts have not had jurisdiction to try defendants in the "first category", which includes alleged planners and authors of rapes during the genocide. The people in this category are estimated to be around 7, 500, according to the Rwandan government. Until now, they have been tried by normal courts.

The proposed new law maintains in the first category only the planners of the genocide at the national or provincial level.

Other defendants initially classified in the first category, including authors of rapes, are referred to the second, thus falling under the jurisdiction of gacaca courts.

The gacaca courts can deliver sentences of 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 the suspension of sentences ,was introduced into Rwandan law for certain categories of persons convicted for genocide to ease congestion in prisons.

Inspired by the traditional gathering during which wise men from the village settled disagreements while sitting on the grass (gacaca, in Rwandan language), the traditional courts are not presided by professional magistrates but by people with high integrity nominated from within the community.


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