Gacaca trials put to the test

29 March 2005 by Mary Kimani

The first trials before Rwanda's gacaca courts finally opened on 10 March. Almost three years after their official launch, the courts, made up of locally elected judges from a district or hill, read out their first verdicts for people suspected of participating in the genocide. The most notable fact was the summoning of several hundred local administrative leaders before the courts. 

Some 192 cases were heard on day one of the trials. In 34 of these, judgements ranging from acquittal to thirty years' imprisonment were pronounced. Many survivors again expressed their impatience for the legal process to move forward quickly. "It is good that the trials have finally started", said Dina Mujawamariya, a survivor from the Nyamirambo district in Kigali, "but I want them to get to the people who killed my family soon".
Over the last three-and-a-half years, there has been a sustained effort to persuade a large number of suspects in prison to confess their crimes, using the incentive of greatly reduced sentences. The Rwandan authorities say that around 60,000 of them have made confessions to date, some 75% of detainees. This is probably the most tangible result of the entire gacaca initiative. The government is very satisfied with the result; the survivors less so. "It is obvious that they are confessing because they will get out. But they rarely tell the truth. I know many here who were involved in rape. They would never have been released if they had confessed to that", says Dina Mujawamariya bitterly.

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