Justice compromised Legacy of Rwanda's community-based Gacaca courts: the legacy of Rwanda's community-based Gacaca courts
"Since 2005, just over 12,000 community-based gacaca courts in Rwanda have heard more than 1.2 million cases against people accused of involvement in the country's 1994 genocide. The local population across the country participated in these trials, and judges were lay members of the community. The objectives of gacaca were to deliver justice for the genocide, reduce the massive prison population, and foster reconciliation. This ambitious experiment in transitional justice leaves behind a mixed legacy. Recognizing the enormous challenge the Rwandan government faced in building a system to rapidly process tens of thousands of cases, this report notes some of gacaca's achievements, including the swift work of the courts, the extensive participation of local communities, and the opportunity for genocide survivors to learn what happened to their relatives. Gacaca may also have helped some victims find a way to live peacefully with neighbors who may have perpetrated crimes against them or their families. However, the longer-term processes of justice and reconciliation remain fraught and incomplete. Rwandans have had to pay a price for the compromises made in applying community-based justice to crimes as serious as genocide. Mixing elements of a modern punitive legal system with more informal conflict-resolution traditions, gacaca lacked a number of important safeguards against violations of due process. Based on Human Rights Watch's extensive trial observations and interviews, and drawing on more than 350 gacaca cases, the report explains how justice has been compromised in many cases. t highlights a wide range of fair trial violations, including limitations on accused persons' ability to effectively defend themselves, intimidation of defense witnesses, flawed decision-making due to inadequate training for lay judges and insufficient guidelines on the application of complex criminal law concepts. Many decisions were likely influenced by judges' ties to the parties in a case or their pre-conceived views of what happened during the genocide. Other cases suggest that accusations of participation in the genocide were no more than trumped-up charges linked to disputes between neighbors and relatives or to the government's attempts to silence critics. Corruption by judges and interested parties was a constant threat to the integrity of the system and some judges had to be removed on that basis. As gacaca draws to a close, the Rwandan government should ensure that a specialized unit of the conventional court system reviews alleged miscarriages of justice. mpartial handling of these cases will be of paramount importance to the legacy of gacaca and to strengthening the Rwandan justice system in the longer term."--P.  of cover.