The Real Challenge of Gacaca
Copyright 2002 Africa News Service, Inc.
August 9, 2002 Friday
Gacaca's Challenge: Going Beyond the Pain And Bitterness.
Ivumwe sector in Mudasomwa district of Gikongoro, central Rwanda, is far off the beaten path. It takes about two and a half hours to drive there from Butare, a town only 50 kilometers away; the road is rugged and rocky, unwelcoming even to the most durable four- wheel drive vehicle. Here, on a small hill covered with patched dry grass, a motley crowd of rural men and women arrive to participate in their last pre-Gacaca trial session.
Facing a backlog of more than 110,000 genocide cases, the Rwandan government instituted the Gacaca law. Under this law, persons accused of participating in genocide, who have confessed to their crimes, will be tried by communal
The criterion is that such suspects are not part of the administrative structure that planned the genocide, who are called category one suspects.
All over Rwanda, communities are now engaging in the six- phase process that precedes the actual trials. During this phase, the modalities as well as the rules are explained to the community. In Ivumwe, they are at the last
When we arrive, the meeting has not yet started. The rules that govern Gacaca proceedings dictate that at least 100 adults be present before a session can begin. Similarly, 15 of the 19 judges elected to the panel have to be present.
We sit and wait for more people to arrive.
The session is presided by Innocent Rucogoza. Barefoot, he dons a red sweater and a stained green coat with brass buttons.
Rucogoza does not by any stretch of the imagination look like youraverage judge, and neither do his colleagues.
Apart from three months of training which ended in July, none of these men and women has ever delved into the world of legalize.
But Gacaca is not a legal system modeled on classical justice. It is a community justice project and these 19 judges were chosen because they know their community. They are the "Inyangamugayo", the people of integrity.
munity. They are the "Inyangamugayo", the people of integrity.
When the meeting finally starts, Rucogoza announces that the agenda is listing all the known perpetrators in Ivumwe. He reads a list of 11 suspects, some of whom are currently detained while others are still at large. He asks the
population if they know anyone who is either left out of the list, or who should not be there.
Accusations start flowing in pretty fast, but we are not allowed to talk to the population during the session and so we are unable to get the full names of those who speak out or the people they accuse.
Interestingly, all those accused are present at the meeting.
"I would like to accuse Nkundiye, he killed people," one woman asserts.
Nkundiye turns out to be a judge in the panel, one of the "Inyangamugayo." He has to step down from the panel of judges and join the population; his name goes on the list. When Gacaca begins, his will be one of the first cases. He
is not expected to give any defense in this meeting but Nkundiye cannot resist the urge to defend himself.
"I was hiding people in my house when I was attacked. They did not find the people I was hiding, but they took me forcefully and forced me to accompany them to a place where they were launching another attack. I was afraid. I thought
they were going to kill me," Nkundiye said.
"I never went to the attack that took place in this woman's place, they commandeered me to the attack at the home of a man called Ngirumpatse there is a land conflict between me and the family of this woman, and she is trying
to use these allegations to get to me," he lamented.
However the accuser maintained her story. "He killed. I saw him with my own eyes, and when the time comes I will tell you the whole story."
At this point Rucogoza pointed out that this was not a Gacaca session, and that when the court properly began, these issues would be discussed at length.
But it was not so easy to keep the peace.
"I want to accuse Kanyengango," A woman by the name Maria says. "I want to accuse him of genocide. He should be in that list," she adds.
Kanyengango, who is sitting in the audience, jumps up and shouts that he never killed anyone, "when Maria was attacked I looted her property. She later told me, you stole that property, you better bring it back. I
compensated her, first I gave her 1,900 francs then I gave her 1,250 francs. She accepted," Kanyengango explained.
Donoziyo, a member of the judge panel concurs. "I was there and I saw the attack, and what I know is that Kanyengango stole cassava, I have never heard that he killed anyone," he says, and the population applauds, obviously supporting this view.
But Maria is not cowed, sulking, she insists, "I am not accusing him of looting, he is a killer, I am accusing him of killings," this time the population murmurs its disapproval, but the debate stops there, as Rucogoza
again reminds them that it was not yet time for discussion about the merits of each case.
For now that answer suffices, but in a few months it is precisely such accusations and counter accusations over which Rucogoza and others will preside.
The real challenges for these simple men and women of integrity will be to render decisions that are not only just, but which will assist these communities to move beyond the bitterness, pain and anger. That is the real
challenge of Gacaca.