Gacaca closes shop
Edwin Musoni- New Times
President Kagame in a group photo with Gacaca Judges (Inyangamugayo) and other delegates at the function to close Gacaca at Parliament yesterday. The New Times / Village Urugwiro.
Gacaca trials officially wound up yesterday at a well-attended ceremony at the Parliamentary Buildings in Kimihurura, Kigali.
Speakers, led by President Paul Kagame, paid glowing tribute to Gacaca judges, and the Rwandan community in general, for turning Gacaca into a great success.
The ceremony attracted representatives from various countries, as well as international organisations who also received a special mention from the President for standing by Rwandans over the last 10 years of Gacaca trials.
Several international legal experts witnessed the closing ceremony, which was preceded by testimonies from both former convicts and survivors in Kicukiro District.
President Kagame spoke of the outstanding legacy of Gacaca courts, which he said delivered far beyond “expectations.” Kagame said the closure of Gacaca was a celebration of the country’s greatest achievement of restoration of unity, trust and reconciliation, and its “ability to find solutions to seemingly intractable questions”.
“Given the magnitude of the problem, including the numbers involved and limited resources at our disposal, conventional justice as we know it, could not deliver the results that we sought. We had three choices:
First was the more dangerous path of revenge, and secondly, grant general amnesty, both of which would have led to further anarchy and destruction.
But we chose the third and more difficult course of dealing with the matter decisively and restoring the unity and integrity of the nation,” said the Head of State.
“We turned to Gacaca, our traditional conflict resolution mechanism, and adapted it to respond to the challenges facing us. Today, Rwandans have rediscovered their collective self-worth and confidence to help us find solutions to other challenges we have,” Kagame observed.
The Head of State said, “Gacaca, granted, had its imperfections. It received criticism both from within and outside Rwanda, yet (the critics) offered no viable alternatives that could deliver the results we needed. Despite all this, Gacaca has served us very well, and even exceeded our expectations.”
“It challenged every Rwandan into introspection and soul-searching that resulted in truth-telling, national healing, reconciliation and justice. And it worked because Rwandans largely believed in it”.
Exactly 10 years ago, Gacaca courts were re-introduced in the country as the best alternative to accord justice to the perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi who were crowded in prisons.
Without the Gacaca courts, it could have taken the conventional justice system hundreds of years to try all the Genocide cases, experts said. The courts tried nearly 2 million suspects within the ten years.
The courts have not only been commended for delivering justice expeditiously, but also for promoting reconciliation, unearthing the truth about the Genocide and ending the culture of impunity.
Yesterday’s closing ceremony was preceded by a conference on Gacaca, where international legal experts commended the courts for serving as an ideal alternative to the classical penal systems.
President Kagame expressed his conviction that there could have been no better alternative to deal with the genocide cases and welcomed the continued discussion in legal, judicial and academic circles to adapt and improve it.
Kagame said the value and effectiveness of Gacaca will be measured against the record of other courts, principally the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
The UN-backed ICTR has tried about 90 cases at a cost about US$1.7 billion since 1995. Rwanda and legal experts alike fault it for leaving behind discontent with regard to justice.
“Yet at a significantly less cost, the Gacaca process has had the highest impact in terms of cases handled, and has delivered justice and reconciliation at a much higher scale. For us the lessons of Gacaca go beyond justice and embrace other facets of national life,” the President said.
He added that Gacaca has empowered Rwandans in ways few could have envisaged.
“It has illustrated the liberating value of truth,” he said.
“We should all be pleased that today, Rwandans live and work together for their well-being and common good as we look forward to the start of another chapter in our nation’s development.”
The former Minister of Development and Cooperation in the Netherlands, Jan Pronk, praised Gacaca as “the best possible option and honest way to achieve justice and to go for the next stage of reconciliation”.
“Gacaca may not be perfect, and there may still be questions, but with no doubts the Gacaca proceedings made a major and an essential contribution to the rebuilding of a nation that is characterised by justice and peace,” said Jan Pronk.
He observed that Gacaca could not have succeeded without a strong leadership and people-centred governance.
The Executive Secretary of the National Gacaca Jurisdiction, Domitilla Mukantaganzwa, pointed out that Gacaca wouldn’t have succeeded without the participation and support of the entire community.
“The road wasn’t very smooth, Gacaca faced a number of challenges, but we succeeded. About 27.1 percent of Gacaca Judges had to be replaced because they took part in the Genocide. There were also local leaders who had participated in the Genocide and sought to interfere with court proceedings,” said Mukantaganzwa.
She added that there were also cases of corruption, trauma amongst survivors, intimidation and killing of Gacaca judges, among other complex challenges.
“However, we succeeded and studies have rated our success to about 87 percent,” Mukantaganzwa said, adding that Gacaca trials, over the 10-years of existence, consumed a budget of Rwf 29 billion.
Contact email: edwin.musoni[at]newtimes.co.rw