Gacaca under pressure

06 February 2006 by Louis-Martin Rugendo

The start of gacaca trials throughout Rwanda, slated for the beginning of 2006, will be delayed by the local and municipal elections scheduled for February and March, indicated the Rwandan authorities in early January. Inaugurated three years ago, and having opened the first trials nearly a year ago, only 10% of the 10,000 people’s courts have entered the trial phase. Since March 2005, 118 gacaca courts have handed down 4,000 decisions. And while 120,000 prosecution cases are waiting to come before the judges, it is estimated that 700,000 people, nearly a tenth of the population, are currently free but could have to face charges before a gacaca court. But under what circumstances?

At first glance, it seems that in the pre-trial phase priority was given to those who confessed their guilt. However, the sincerity of these confessions has been questioned. “It is not unusual for detainees to make partial confessions, claim to have committed minor offenses or make confessions in order spare other defendants,” notes Lawyers without Borders in a report of its observations between March-September 2005. “Generally speaking, testimony given by the defendants themselves, especially for crimes as serious as genocide and crimes against humanity, is always a problematic source of information requiring caution. Yet, in most of the gacaca trials, confessions were accepted or denied without any other form of verification and without conducting a true debate that would consist in thoroughly cross-examining witnesses and the various statements in order to ensure that the confession is authentic,” adds the report.

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