Independent justice or courts under orders?

25 April 2005 by Mary Kimani

Within two weeks of Gacaca restarting its operations in March, three of the community courts have summoned three high Rwandan dignitaries - Prime Minister Bernard Makuza, Minister of Defense General Marcel Gatsinzi, and the prefect of Ruhengeri province in northern Rwanda, Boniface Rucagu - to answer charges relating to the 1994 genocide. Gatsinzi and Rucagu are directly accused of taking part in the genocide. The appearance of these important Hutu officials, who became members of the governing Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has sparked debate. Some see it as the determination of ordinary Rwandans to prise answers from everyone, even from prominent Hutus who have been successfully integrated into the government. Others see it as a ploy to tarnish the reputation of the few remaining Hutu leaders.

General Gatsinzi did not arrive like any other suspect. He appeared with all the trappings of his ministerial post in a grey, four-wheel Toyota Land Cruiser with heavily tinted windows and a Rwanda Defence Forces number plate. He was accompanied by the head of intelligence for Butare province, the prefect and a bodyguard who served him water over the course of the long hearings. A posse of MPs was waiting to greet him, and traffic policemen directed unusually heavy traffic. No fewer than 2,000 Butare residents had assembled on 30 March for this exceptional hearing in the vast football stadium. When Gatsinzi walked in, everyone, including the president of the court, bowed in due deference to authority. Unlike other witnesses, the general was not expected to stand. But that was all the respect granted that day to the man who was once chief of staff of the armed forces in the former regime from 7 to 15 April 1994, before joining the victorious RPF army in July 1994, and becoming defence minister in the new government.

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