Rwanda’s grassroots justice

13 January 2010 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Fifteen years on, Rwandans are still reliving the genocide. Every week, scores of people around the country attend the community-based Gacaca trials of alleged génocidaires in their communities.

Two suspects dressed in pink prison uniforms are brought into the assembly room in a community centre in Runda, some 20 minutes outside Kigali. More than a hundred villagers take their seats in the small room, others gather around the building to watch the trial through the window. In attendance are victims, survivors and witnesses. The presiding judge asks for calm. “Please remember that this is not a market, this is a court of law.”

After a minute of silence for victims of the genocide, the first suspect is called. Hitimana was a community driver in 1994 and is accused of having driven dead bodies from the central church and dumped them in the nearby Nyaborongo river. The man, who is in his thirties, claims he is innocent. He is a Tutsi and says that he was a victim of the genocide himself. Several witnesses confirm Hitimana’s story while others say they witnessed his crimes. Establishing the truth will be a difficult task for the six community judges.

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.