According to official figures, 1,461 cases are yet to be concluded by the courts which began actual trials only five years ago. Approximately one million people have already been judged.
The idea of setting up Gacaca Courts took shape during debates organized at the Rwandan Presidency between May 1998 and March 1999. At the time, some 120,000 alleged "genocidaires" crowded Rwanda's prisons and communal jails. The ad hoc chambers, which had been created at the lower courts' level to try the accused, were crushed by the workload. At their rate, they would have needed 100 years to prosecute all prisoners.
After many debates and consultations, a constitutive law for Gacaca Courts was promulgated in 2001. Adapted from a form of Rwandan traditional justice, Gacaca justice rests on three main principles: categorization of persons prosecuted for having allegedly committed genocide; participation of the population in public trials; confession and remorse of the culprits.
Since the installment of Gacaca Courts, Human Rights organizations have continuously criticized the absence of adequate legal assistance for the defendants.
For its part, the principal genocide survivors' rights group, Ibuka, criticizes the Gacaca Courts for their inability to reveal how the 1994 massacre of some 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, had been planned. "For the survivors, the truth about the planning remains unknown. This can have very negative consequences", Theodore Simburudali, the head of Ibuka, told the French news agency AFP.
The first trials started, in March 2005, in 106 pilot jurisdictions, out of a total of 12,103.
Each Gacaca Court works with 9 volunteer judges, "eminent persons" chosen within a given community, regardless of their level of formal education.
In April 2008, the constitutive law was amended to extent the competence of Gacaca Courts to suspects of the so-called "first category", i.e. rapists and genocide planners at the local level.
In order to empty the country's prisons, a law in 2004 introduced the possibility for accused pleading guilty to have their prison terms commuted into works of public interest (WPI). Regrouped in "solidarity camps", the convicted were to make tiles and bricks, build houses for destitute genocide survivors, drain swamps or fight erosion.
On December 11, the Executive Secretary of the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions (NSGJ), Domitille Mukantaganzwa, announced that 94,466 condemned had participated in the WPI program. By then, 11,097 of them had served their sentence.
MAIN DATES OF THE GACACA PROCESS (BOX)
- January 26, 2001 : Promulgation of the Organic Law 40/2000 setting up "gacaca jurisdictions" and organizing prosecutions for offences constituting the crime of genocide or crimes against humanity committed between October 1, 1990 and December 31, 1994. This law will be amended several times.
- October 4 to 7, 2001 : election of the inyangamugayo, righteous persons to become gacaca judges.
- June 9, 2002 : First trials in 12 pilot sectors including 79 cells. This phase is called "collection of information relating to the genocide".
- November 25, 2002 : Enlargement of the first phase to 106 pilot sectors including 672 cells.
- August to December, 2004 : Training of the Judges
- January 15, 2005 : Collection of information at the national level.
- March 10, 2005 : Opening of the first trials before pilot gacacas.
- July 15, 2006 : Opening of trials at the national level.
- June 23, 2008 : First trials of suspects from the " first category". Planners at the national level are still tried by traditional tribunals.
- December 9, 2009 : Closing of the gacaca courts is officially scheduled for February 2010.
© Hirondelle News Agency