"Rwanda was largely destroyed in 1994. Among an endless host of problems, highly complex questions and dilemmas of justice, unity, and reconciliation haunt Rwanda to this day. A basic question confronting Rwanda is how to deal with the legacy of the conflict that culminated in the genocide of the Tutsi and in the massacres of Hutu opponents of the genocide. The UN set up an International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, and Rwanda has its own courts. In both cases, the process of trying accused genocidaires is long, laborious, and frustrating. Only eight convictions have been handed down in Arusha after five years of work, while in Rwanda only some 3,000 cases have been disposed of. At least 120,000 detainees are in prisons around the country, the vast majority of whom are accused of participation in the genocide. At the present rate it is estimated that it will take anywhere between two and four centuries to try all those in detention. The Rwandese government has developed a new procedure called “gacaca,” lower-level tribunals that attempt to blend traditional and contemporary mechanisms to expedite the justice process in a way that promotes reconciliation. The impact of gacaca remains to be seen, and as a process, it certainly needs an evaluation or, at least, an attempt to evaluate its possible contribution to the perplexing questions of justice, unity and social reconstruction in the aftermath of genocide.
This paper mainly aims to analyse the draft legislation on the gacaca jurisdictions. Further, this essay attempts to examine the impact of criminal trials in the aftermath of mass violence and genocide. Although conventional wisdom holds that criminal trials promote several goals, including uncovering the truth; avoiding collective accountability by individualising guilt; breaking cycle of impunity; deterring future war crimes; providing closure for the victims and fostering democratic institutions, little is known about the role that judicial intervention have in rebuilding societies.
The present essay deals only with criminal trials. By definition, these are focused on the perpetrators of abuses and their allies. Although not examined in the essay, a comprehensive and holistic approach to dealing with a legacy of past atrocities should also include range of victim-focused efforts, such as programs for compensation and rehabilitation, the establishment of memorials, and the organisation of appropriate commemorations.
The main sources of this study are textbooks, articles from journals and official documents of national and international bodies. Since this essay aims at evaluating the gacaca proposals, a great deal of attention is paid to the terms of the draft legislation.
It is certainly premature to make an in-depth assessment of a draft law and the merits and flaws of the legal institution it is designed to set up. Only gradually and over a period of time can the gacaca become effective and credible. Further research aimed at gathering data through interviews, field observations, participant observation, study and analysis of the implementation can also illuminate experience in ways that analysis of published sources do not. A thorough and sound appraisal of this new institution must therefore wait some time. I shall nevertheless attempt in this essay to set out some initial and tentative comments on some of the salient traits of the future gacaca tribunals.
This paper makes a preliminary “human rights impact assessment” of the implementation of the draft law establishing “gacaca jurisdictions”. The potential role of the new institution in rebuilding the Rwandese society is also discussed. Considering the many complex issues which still surround the process of justice in Rwanda six years after the genocide, as well as the continuing challenge to the judicial system in terms of the inadequacy of resources for dealing with such an enormous caseload, recommendations to help the process follow the analysis of the gacaca proposals (Chapter Three).
To end impunity, it is necessary to respond in accordance with human rights law to the genocide and mass killings. Therefore, the starting point for our evaluation of the gacaca proposals will be an analysis of the proposals in human rights law. Does human rights law impose any affirmative duties to punish genocide and other mass killings that occurred in Rwanda? In addition, for the “gacaca jurisdictions” to be effective, they should not be viewed in isolation, as their performance will depend to a large extent on whether other judicial mechanisms and institutions are functioning properly. The relationships between the gacaca jurisdiction and other mechanisms are thus reviewed. In particular, the process of setting up the gacaca jurisdictions should include an evaluation of the genocide trials which have taken place to date both at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and in the domestic courts and apply the lessons learnt (Chapter Two). An evaluation of the potential contribution of the use of gacaca courts needs to be put into the broader context of the conflict in Rwanda. Thus, an analysis of the conflict in Rwanda is necessary to grasp the challenges facing the questions of justice and social reconstruction in the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda (Chapter One)." -- Introduction.
Prepared under the supervision of Professor Jeremy Sarkin, Faculty of Law, University of the Western Cape
Thesis (LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa)) -- University of Pretoria, 2000.