Gacaca courts failed to unite Rwandans-Jica report

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By Robert Mugabe

Kigali, Rwanda-Rwanda’s community genocide courts, commonly known as “Gacaca” due to wind up this year, have done nothing to heal ethnic divisions and have been used to strengthen government authority, says a report by one of the country’s probably leading aid donors.

The unique transitional Gacaca courts, which have heard more than a million cases, have been hailed as the centre piece of Rwanda’s miracle recovery from the 1994 genocide, but their reputation has been disputed in a study by Japan’s Jica aid corporation.

Jica researcher Shinichi Takeuch says the courts are regarded in Rwanda as handing out “victor’s justice”, and “have done nothing to ease underlying ethnic tensions in the country”.

“Divisions clearly exist, and in the popular perception they are even wider. This is a dangerous symptom. Ethnically perceived discontent may erupt someday when the political power of the RPF becomes weaker.

It is high time, therefore, to examine political, economic, and social measures for alleviating ethnically divided perceptions,” reads the report which Great Lakes Voice bears a copy.

The courts were touted as an “African solution” that would heal the legacy left by a Hutu-led genocide that killed nearly one in 10 Rwandese, many from the Tutsi minority.

Nearly a decade after more than 1000,000 people were murdered in a 100-day killing spree, impoverished Rwanda found itself with 135,000 detainees and only 12 courts to process their cases.

“Reforms have not brought about any significant change in the power structure of the military, in which Tutsi former refugees prevail; and those who have benefitted most from rapid economic growth are most likely to be Tutsis returnees living in urban areas,” the report says

The Rwanda government said the courts were intended to re-establish a “concord” and enable “the simple citizens who have been manipulated and have perpetrated the crimes to take a good start again”.

Authorities vowed that justice could “become true only if the truth about the events is established”.

However, while this week’s report acknowledged the extraordinary scale of the problems faced by Rwanda and some local acceptance of the gacaca solution, it said that the justice they gave was allowed “only insofar as it did not threaten the existing political order”.

The report also accuses Rwanda political stability to have been realized by military operations and not institutional arrangements; “and their contributions to the rule of law were questionable at best.”

Kagame’s Rwandese Patriotic Front, in power since 1994, has always claimed credit for stopping the Hutu-led genocide.

In its own report on the gacaca system this year, Human Rights Watch said the courts had done well to process so many cases and alleviate prison overcrowding but had done so at the expense of fair trials and had failed to address crimes by Tutsi rebels.

The unusual source of this week’s criticism of one of the central planks of Kagame’s success story – coming from traditionally quiet donor Japan – will embarrass Kigali, some observers say. Jica handed out US$33 million ($39.3 million) in grants to Rwanda last year.


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