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by Rutagengwa Claude Shema

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)


Bio Other articles on Peace...

Transcend Africa Network: Report on Refugees


War and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the Great - Lakes Region of Africa


Africa in the Face of the Development of Others


International Migration and Development Revisited


Ghettoization or Globalization of African Literature


Sudanese Internal Displaced People


Great Lakes Region of Africa - Burundi


Child Rights Associations/Youth Movements in Rwanda


Assistance, Bi-lateral Cooperation and Humanitarian Interventions


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Gacaca as Dilemma

After the tragedy and cruel genocide of Rwanda in April-July 1994, the Rwandese together with the government of unity have been trying to heal wounds made by this horrific event.

This is most important thing to do after such tragedy. Furthermore, justice has been chosen as one of methods to help Rwandese, especially those who survived the genocide.

Gacaca semi-traditional jurisdictions have brought a huge positive impact in terms of judging perpetrators of the genocide.

On the other hand, these semi-traditional courts - Gacaca -have emerged from yet another controversy related to the issues of war crimes committed by RPA (Rwandese Patriotic Army-former rebels and actual Rwandese national army) against Hutus during the so called"liberation war" launched on 1st October 1990.

The organic law on the organization of prosecutions for the crime of genocide or crimes against humanity committed between October 1st,1990 until December 31st,1994 has been voted and amended by the Rwandese parliament in 1996 and passed in January, 2001, officially. The overarching goal of Gacaca semi-traditional courts is to promote reconciliation and healing by providing a platform for victims to express themselves, encouraging acknowledgements and apologies from the perpetrators and facilitating the coming together of both victims and perpetrators every week on the grass (Gacaca).

Now Gacaca courts are active in the whole country.But one of challenges that might even undermine Gacaca is that the participants in the Gacaca courts assemblies have different ways of understanding what Gacaca is about. Some people, especially Hutus, pereceive Gacaca courts as a condemnation or punishment method chosen by Tutsis against Hutus, just revenging on their relatives (Tutsis) who perished in the genocide, killed by Hutus, despite huge sensitisation campaigns made by all stakeholders involved in Gacaca courts.It has been said a couple of times that Gacaca courts is a golden piler and pathway to reconciliation, but some politicians, especially the opposition, discourage people, telling them the contrary to that, and this seems to be inconceivable or offensive to them.While others, especially goverment, consider Gacaca as a genuine way to bring harmony and sustainable peace among Rwandese.

Perceptions of survivors of genocide

When these courts were established, it was so difficult to convince the survivors of the genocide of the importance of Gacaca because most of them were saying that Gacaca courts will not bring back their relatives and beloved ones who perished..And sometimes they didn’t appreciate seei9ng and living together again with the released confessed prisonners of genocide crimes. To many survivors,an eye for an eye method would be applied. That means that all Hutus involved in the genocide must be punished seriously and exemplarily, and most of the survivors prefer death penalty for the perpetrators.And some of them consider Gacaca as serving the political interests of government, not a helping method to them. But finally, the survivors decided to participate effectively in Gacaca assemblies.Of course, the sensitizations of the government played a key role in this, and some other stakeholdes as well.Some confessed genocide prisonners contributed a lot also in this matter because they gave testmony on their crimes in the genocide too.And these testimonies touched and provoked survivors and interested them to know how their relatives perished.

Unfortunately, so far a number of survivors of the genocide have been cruelly killed by Hutus in all regions of the country. Surprisingly they have been killed in the same way they killed Tutsis during the 1994 genocide. The death of sirvivors increased hatred among Hutus and Tutsis, and produced obsessive fear (pscychosis) among survivors.

Perceptions of perpetrators and Hutu communities

The Gacaca court raised another issue of war crimes against humanity committed by some RPA soldiers during battle against the ex-rwandese defence force(FAR). This issue has been also raised by some human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

In 1990-1994 and after, some RPA soldiers killed thousands of civilians, in the process committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. These crimes have been well-documented, including by a U.N. Commission of Experts which concluded that the RPA had "perpetrated serious breaches of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity. And most of Hutus say that it would be better also to talk about the war crimes committed against Hutus and those who are guilty must also be punished according to Gacaca courts laws, instead of punishing anly Hutus.This issue led to more that 10.000 Hutus fleeing to neigbouring countries like Burundi and Tanzania, saying that the Gacaca courts are just to exterminate Hutu tribe in Rwanda.Of course, in Rwanda nowadays, there is no ethinic background identity. Only the seed of ethinicity planted by Belgians in 30’s still exists in Rwanda. In Gacaca courts,only Hutus appear in assemblies.

It must be understood that Hutus killed Tutsis during the genocide, yes, and also there should be another court, different from the actual Gacaca name,and this court should look at issues of RPA soldiers who committed war that Hutus victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity would feel consolated. And this would help to avoid any confusion and anger about Gacaca.

Two different Gacaca courts are needed if we need truth

Whatever it should be called, the court for RPA war crimes and crimes against humanity is needed, once it has been confirmed that RPA soldiers have committed those atrocities.Then we’ll have two different Gacaca courts"one for Genocide crimes committed by some Hutus against Tutsis (already undergoing), and another one for war crimes committed by some RPA soldiers against some Hutus.This is only way to sustainable reconciliation among Rwandese. But all this will be possible if have a willingness to tell truth and admit or confess our crimes.

May peace prevail in Rwanda,in Africa,and in the world!