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Gacaca : the Panacea


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Selon (le) rapport (d'Amnesty International), intitulé "Gacaca: une question
de justice", l'association a affirmé que le faible respect des droits de l'Homme
par le gouvernement rwandais avait eu des répercutions sur les procès des
tribunaux traditionnels.

AI sur Gacaca

Gacaca: mission possible?

Justice : on fait ce qu'on peut !
Le processus de mise en place des gacaca vient de franchir une nouvelle étape. Il existe à
présent au moins un tribunal populaire dans chacune des 106 communes du Rwanda.
Entrés en vigueur le 20 juin dernier, les gacaca (signifie "herbe" car lors des assemblées
traditionnelles des villages, les anciens se mettaient par terre) sont des assemblées
publiques locales servant à alléger le travail des tribunaux classiques dans le jugement
des milliers de suspect impliqués dans le génocide de 1994. Le projet gouvernemental
prévoit au total la création de 11.000 gacaca.

Gacaca : 1 par commune ?

Commentaire express : le problème pourrait ne plus être "seulement"
les 130 000+  détenus mais la conjonction de ceux-ci avec les 250
000 magistrats en herbe et les 11 000 cours sur gazon. 
"Heureusement" le Ministre n'a pas bougé... à l'occasion du
remaniement.  RR 29/11/02

Faustin Nteziryayo, l' ancien

La Justice vue par F. Nteziryayo, Vice-Gouverneur de la Banque Nationale du Rwanda et surtout précédant Ministre de la Justice

"(...) Récemment, le régime de Kigali semble avoir indiqué son intention
de recourir aux tribunaux populaires "Gacaca" pour juger les auteurs
des crimes de génocide et des autres crimes contre l'humanité.
"Gacaca", littéralement "Gazon", est un mode traditionnel de règlement
des différends mineurs fondé sur l'esprit de famille et prônant plus la
réconciliation que les sanctions.
Ce n'est pas l'utilisation de ces tribunaux populaires qui va améliorer la
situation, car on risque ainsi de légaliser la vengeance et la délation (...)."
C'était en 1999 et en exil. Nos voisins burundais disent qu'on ne parlent pas la bouche pour expliquer que certains  la ferment lorsqu'ils sont au pouvoir et font du tapage lorsqu'ils n'y sont plus ou pas encore.

RWANDA: Special report on hopes for reconciliation under Gacaca court system


Billboard in Kigali calls people to take part in the Gacaca courts.

KIGALI, 4 Dec 2002 (IRIN) - The Rwandan government, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission and the elite of the capital, Kigali, are at pains to stress the importance of reconciliation, the steps being taken to achieve it and the progress in this direction eight years since the 1994 genocide. One of the key components of that ongoing progress, they say, is the Gacaca court system.

The grass-roots "courts" - 673 of which began opening across the country on
 25 November to be followed by a further 8,258 in March 2003 - aim to expedite the trials of those accused of genocide crimes, to reveal the truth about what happened, to put an end to the culture of impunity in Rwanda, and to reconcile the Rwandan people and strengthen ties between them, says the government.

In the absence of a functional justice system able to cope with the challenge of judging over 100,000 prisoners - a year after the genocide Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that only 36 judges, and three prosecutors with formal legal training, were available - and little money or support from outside to mobilise and strengthen that system, Gacaca revives traditional and affordable means of resolving conflicts based on pre-colonial Rwandan culture.

A grass-roots countrywide sensitisation campaign, as well as radio, television, and billboards, inform the public to attend the courts, and that telling the truth and asking for forgiveness will significantly reduce their prison sentences.

Less obvious to the observer, however, and more difficult to obtain information about, is the intimidation and fear that accompany the "telling of the truth". In Kigali alone, an investigation was under way into the deaths of "about 20" people believed to have been killed to prevent them from giving evidence in the Gacaca courts, Jean Paul Mugiraneza, a lawyer working with the Rwandan Institut de recherche et de dialogue pour la paix (IRDP), told IRIN. "There is a great risk, there is no strategy to protect witnesses," he said.

"It is even worse outside Kigali, where there are more threats. The accused there far outnumber the victims," Naasson Munyandamutsa, Rwanda's only psychiatrist, said.

The head of the National Human Rights Commission, Deogratias Kayumba, told IRIN that in general the Gacaca pilot phase (from June to October) had gone "very well", but acknowledged that witnesses had been bribed or threatened to keep quiet.

"More dangerous than those two [threats and bribes] are some politicians at high levels who teach the population to say nothing [so as] to protect the accused, and as a means of propaganda," he said. "Some people have a nostalgia to turn back, using all means, even a civil war," he added.

Overcrowded prisons

How much Gacaca - which has an expected lifespan of four to five years - will contribute to the process of reconciliation remains, for the time being, uncertain.

Most analysts agree that inhumane conditions in prisons (also a drain on the government's limited resources) will be improved by reducing the sentences of those who confess. A 25-year sentence, for example, could be reduced to between 12 and 15 years following a confession, John Nkubana, an employee of the Ministry of Justice whose task is to sensitise Kigali residents to Gacaca law, told IRIN.

In a country where overcrowding in some detention sites is such that four inmates can occupy every single square metre of floor space in open courtyards, and six every square metre in dormitory buildings that surround the courtyards (HRW 1995), this would be considered welcome progress.

Many prisoners who were arrested solely on the basis of denunciation and have never been brought to trial, or who have spent seven years in detention for minor crimes such as stealing, will be freed. Many others who have so far escaped justice will be imprisoned for the first time, as prisoners who have confessed accuse their accomplices.

"Prisoners are also reporting on friends [who are free]. Prisoners will increase, not decrease," Mussa Fazil Harelimana, commissioner and Gacaca adviser to the Supreme Court, said.

Other stated aims of the courts remain more uncertain, however, and depend on the extent to which judges (many of whom are poor and unpaid), witnesses, and those collecting and documenting the evidence abuse the system. With widespread poverty, poor security infrastructure, low levels of education (in 2002, the UN estimated that only 66.8 percent of those aged 15 years and above were literate), and little guidance from a weak civil society and a church that was heavily implicated in the genocide, Gacaca is open to manipulation.

Divided society

Humanitarian workers said Rwandan society remained "extremely closed", "suspicious", and highly traumatised, and lacked the vital financial resources needed for counselling and re-educating both the survivors and perpetrators of the genocide.

"People still live in apprehension," Maxwell Nkole, the acting head of investigations at the Kigali office of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, said: "Certain sectors of Rwandan society continue to believe that the divisions continue. The hate message is still implanted, and it takes time and a lot of effort to pluck it out."

Alternative to international justice

While the Gacaca system is widely recognised as being flawed and a contravention of the "norms" of international justice systems, for many Rwandans it represents a great hope, as a participatory system, which forces people to tell the truth and to face up to their past.

At least people have to sit together, discuss what happened and try to find solutions, said Peace Uwineza of the IRDP. "The traditional system hasn't offered us anything better," she added.

Nkole said that the potential of Gacaca to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness was greater than the complicated international system of justice.

"People are more inclined towards compensation for losses, they want to see that, they do not see the value of criminal justice," he said.

He added that the rigorous standards applied in the international system, which included exhuming bodies, giving minute details, and being cross-examined for days on end, were foreign to most ordinary Rwandans.

The threatening of witnesses giving evidence at the ICTR was also a "recurring problem," he said.

Gacaca in prison

Since 1999 an informal gacaca system has been operating in many of Rwanda's prisons and places of detention, at the order of the minister for justice.

In 1998, Kigali's central prison started its own informal gacaca system, the prison director, Antoine Rutayisire, told IRIN. Of the 4,272 genocide cases (including 636 women), 1,401 had already confessed to their crimes, he said.

Mwamina, a nurse who coordinates Gacaca in the women's section of Kigali prison, said the hope was that when Gacaca began and many people started attending the courts, they would confess and ask for forgiveness.

She had admitted her role in the genocide and was waiting for a Gacaca court to hear her case. "My role was to show the people doing the killing where they [eight of the victims] were hiding," she said.

Asked what she would do when she when she returned to her home in the Kanombe Prefecture of Kigali, she said she expected to be on good terms with her neighbours. "I will ask them to forgive me and explain what happened, and I hope they will understand," she said. "Once I am at home I will have to obey and respect these people."

Reshaping thinking

Many key questions will remain unanswered for some time. Will ordinary Rwandans feel that justice will have been carried out through Gacaca? Will they participate in the courts? Will people misuse the system to exact revenge? What will happen when thousands of ex-prisoners return to their villages to reclaim their land? Will survivors feel safe enough to openly accuse their neighbours?

"How can you expect deeply traumatised people, without any support systems in place to help them, to forgive?" one humanitarian worker said.

Even if the government is prepared to reduce sentences to ease pressure in the prison population, uncertainty remains about the public's willingness to forgive.

Yet many Rwandans - who will finally find out who killed their families, and where they were buried - remain optimistic. "We are obliged to reconcile because we are neighbours," Consolata Mukanyiligira of the Association of Genocide Widows, Avega, said.

Others say that without sustained poverty reduction, and help from the international community to achieve this, the divisions in Rwandan society that led to the genocide will remain. "People want food on their tables, and to send their children to school," a humanitarian worker said.

The government is developing its policy on a reparation fund for genocide survivors (to replace the Fond d'Appui Rescapes de Genocide, FARG, which supports families of survivors). The government also introduced a poverty reduction strategy in July 2002, and is developing a policy on land, which was one of "the main causes of conflict" in Rwanda, the director of the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development, Annie Kairaba, said.

But with little money to negotiate with, real progress will be hard to achieve without outside aid. "I have hope, especially if there is a genuine effort towards poverty reduction. But if the economy doesn't improve, reconciliation will be very difficult," she said.