Rwanda closes tribunals overseeing genocide prosecutions

File photo of Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who said what the courts achieved went beyond expectations.

Story highlights

  • Rwanda established village tribunals, known as the gacacas, to oversee cases
  • Gacacas courts were established to ease the burden on criminal court prosecutions
  • The gacacas handled more than 1.5 million cases related to the 1994 genocide
  • The genocide in Rwanda left more 800,000 dead

Rwanda officially closed on Monday its village tribunals overseeing the prosecution of suspects in a 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead, marking the end of more than a decade of local court prosecutions.

Government officials gathered in Kigali over the weekend to formally mark the closure of the courts, known as the gacacas, which closed the last of its cases earlier this month.

"What these courts achieved went beyond anyone's expectations. They administered justice and united Rwandans at the same time," Rwanda President Paul Kagame said in a statement posted on the gacacas website.

"These courts were evidence of our ability to find solutions to challenges that seemed insurmountable."

The closing of the gacacas came on the heels of the last of the criminal prosecutions related to the genocide by the International Criminal Court, though appeals of ICC findings are expected to go through 2014. according to the ICC

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The leaders and masterminds of the genocide were tried by the criminal courts and the ICC, and civilians who contributed to attacks or loss of life directly or indirectly were sent to gacacas.

Gacaca courts were introduced in the central African nation after the April 1994 genocide. The victims were mostly from the Tutsi ethnic minority, who were targeted by Hutus over a rivalry that dates to colonial days. Some moderates from the Hutu majority who supported Tutsis were also killed.

The gacacas were originally formed to resolve minor disputes among villagers but were reinvented to hand out justice to the perpetrators of the genocide and help fast-track reconciliation efforts in the broken nation.

The nation's justice system and the International Criminal Tribunal set up to try genocide suspects were overwhelmed, and handling all the cases in those courts would have taken hundreds of years, according to the president.

Gacacas hearings were held in open fields in neighborhoods where the attacks occurred. There were no lawyers and no judges in robes. A panel of local villagers with no legal experience conducted the proceedings.

More than 1.5 million cases were heard by the gacacas, according to estimates.

Critics of the gacacas said they did not meet international standards for a fair trial, while others said it exposed victims who testified to revenge attacks.

But proponents of the system, which allows a victim to address the tribunal, said it reduced prison congestion and allowed survivors to hear first-hand what happened to their family members who were killed.

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