Genocide courts finish work in milestone for Rwanda’s healing

18 Jun 2012

By Auke Lootsma, Country Director for the UNDP office in Rwanda

Rwanda formally closed the Gacaca community courts today, after 10 years of prosecution of those accused in the 1994 genocide.

Nearly two million suspects have been tried in hearings that typically took place outdoors, such as in marketplaces, and provided community members the opportunity to face the accused, and give their own account of what happened during the 1994 genocide.

About a quarter of the cases have resulted in acquittal, while many prison sentences have been converted into community service, helping facilitate the reintegration of former detainees into society.

As a result, the number of detainees related to the genocide has dropped from over 200,000 to 37,000.

Rwanda's legal system was crippled after the massacres by ethnic Hutu militia of nearly 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.

The goals of the Gacaca included uncovering the truth of what happened during the genocide, addressing impunity by prosecuting the genocide’s perpetrators, reconciling Rwandans, and proving that Rwandans have the capacity to settle their own problems through a system of justice based on their own custom.

For the last two decades, the international community has asserted the importance of fighting impunity for serious international crimes, helping to set up international tribunals. At the same time, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and others also supported national and “homegrown” initiatives with the potential to have a direct and sustainable impact on affected populations.

Between 2002 and 2006, UNDP provided US$ 1.6 million to the Gacaca management body - Service National des Jurisdictions Gacaca - for development of manuals, trainings, advocacy, and documentation of important lessons learned during the process.

The creation of the Gacaca Documentation Centre in the capital Kigali will be one of the largest archives concerning a mass crime anywhere in the world.