The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda :
The Rwandan genocide was accomplished under the deafening silence of world public opinion. The international community did little to stop the massacres and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless before the genocidaires who vastly outnumbered the contingent of UN peacekeeping troops.
In order to facilitate the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, the United Nations Organization created, by its resolution 955 of 8 November 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.
The function of the Tribunal is to try perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994. Since its creation, and until end December 2009, the ICTR has ruled on around 50 cases and almost as many are still underway.
However, due to the high number of prisoners awaiting trial, the lack of sufficient chambers and the difficulty encountered by the Tribunal to meet procedural deadlines, new jurisdictions were created to find more expeditious means of delivering justice in order to continue to fight effectively against the culture of impunity and denial about the killings and to hopefully strengthen national unity.
Starting in 1998, under the direction of the President of Rwanda, a process of meditation and reflection was initiated to consider the possible use of traditional courts in order to support the ordinary judicial system which was overwhelmed. A commission was created to study this option and the report it issued became the basis of the Organic Law No. 40/2000 of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Jurisdictions.
These traditional courts (Gacaca means “cut grass” and these courts have their origin in the Rwandan tradition, in which community members used to sit on the grass as they solved their various disputes) are composed of elected popular assemblies and organized according to the country’s four administrative levels namely, the cell, sector, district/town and province/city of Kigali.
The first phase of the Gacaca process involves investigations and data collection on the genocide. Each household is contacted for information, leading to the opening up of files for suspects.
These suspects are then grouped into three categories. The first category concerns the most important genocide suspects- the planners, organizers and supervisors of the genocide who are still required to be tried by the ICTR.
The second category is composed of authors of propaganda material that fuelled genocide as well as those who were given instructions to kill. The third category comprises those who destroyed or looted property. It is both of these categories that are judged by the Gacaca courts.
Each administrative category is made up of a General Assembly, a Bureau and a Co-ordination Committee. Their members are elected citizens who fulfill the conditions of eligibility (to be over 21 years old, not to have participated in the commission of the crime of genocide war crimes or crimes against humanity…).
At local level, in accordance with tradition the villagers elect nine representatives to be the judges for each court which has the power to sentence criminals up to life imprisonment, but not the death penalty
Finally, Gacaca courts are based primarily on considerations of confession and testimony, which unearth participation in the genocide but which are also intended to provide grounds for reconciliation.
Trial Watch does not have the means to follow all of the Gacaca trials and focuses mainly on the judgments rendered by the ICTR.