Truth and reconciliation at a price

24 August 2010 by Phil Clark

In the next few weeks, Rwanda will complete the most comprehensive post-conflict justice programme attempted anywhere in the world. Since 2001, 11,000 community-based gacaca courts, overseen by locally-elected judges and barring any participation by lawyers, have prosecuted around 400,000 suspected perpetrators of the 1994 genocide.

Nearly every Rwandan adult has participated in gacaca in some way, either as a witness, defendant or by attending weekly hearings. Under gacaca’s plea-bargaining scheme, the vast majority of those convicted of genocide crimes have had their sentences commuted to community service. If they were among the 120,000 suspects imprisoned directly after the genocide, they have now been reintegrated into the same communities where they committed crimes and live side-by-side with genocide survivors and their families.

The societal impact of gacaca on post-genocide Rwanda has been highly variable. Gacaca’s volatility results from the enormous number of communities involved, which themselves vary greatly in terms of their experiences of the genocide and the nature of inter-ethnic relations today. Over the last nine years, gacaca has recorded two principal successes and confronted two main challenges.

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