#Kwibuka30: Justice experts reflect on challenges, gains in the trial of perpetrators of Genocide against the Tutsi

By Wycliffe Nyamasege
On 5 April 2024 at 03:39

Justice experts said on Friday, April 5, 2024, that the trials of perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda faced numerous challenges, ranging from the intimidation and humiliation of witnesses to attacks on jurists handling the cases.

Speaking during the Kwibuka30 International Conference ahead of the 30th commemoration of the genocide, Domitilla Mukantaganzwa, the Chairperson of the Rwanda Law Reform Commission (RLRC) and former Executive Secretary for the National Gacaca Jurisdiction, termed 2007 as a catastrophic year for the Gacaca community-based courts, which began to hear the trials of genocide suspects in 2002.

Mukantaganzwa said that during this period, many judges were killed, survivors assassinated, and equipment of the courts destroyed.

“We had to start again with the support of the people from the grassroots,” she said.

Mukantaganzwa further noted that another challenge faced during the period was a lack of confidence from the international community in the Gacaca Court system.

“There was a lack of understanding from the international community. Many people were against the process and said this would never work. They tried to confuse the genocide with other crimes. We were able to sit with them and explain to them the reality of the matter,” Mukantaganzwa added.

On the positive side, the RLRC boss noted that the Gacaca courts were able to hear many crimes including rape which were not being handled well in other courts.

She highlighted that the victims of rape were able to access justice with ease after many of them were humiliated in other courts in countries like Belgium.

Mukantaganzwa stated that the Gacaca Courts were able to directly link 46,000 out of 60,000 people to the genocide, representing 76 percent of the genocide suspects.

She attributed the success of the courts to the move by the some of the perpetrators to confess to their crimes and the goodwill from President Paul Kagame’s administration.

"The President himself was present when we began in one of our districts, and the support from the government was immense, many were involved in it. He told us that we must proceed without any hesitation,” she said, further acknowledging support from some quarters of the international community who provided financial support.

Charles Adeogun-Phillips, who led teams of international prosecutors and investigators in 12 precedent-setting and complex genocide and war crimes trials before the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda UN-ICTR, said silence by victims of rape was common during the trials.

He also noted that the reluctance of some victims of rape to confide in male investigators about their ordeal affected investigations.

"There existed a culture of silence. Some witnesses said they were not comfortable talking to investigators about their rape ordeals,” he said.

Michèle Hirsch, a lawyer who represented relatives of victims at the trial in Belgium, noted that during the process “No one wanted to include rape as a war crime.”

Notably, the ICTR indicted 93 individuals for their involvement in the genocide, which resulted in the killing of more than one million people in approximately 100 days. This led to 61 convictions and 14 acquittals.

Additionally, the ICTR withdrew two indictments, and three individuals died before the conclusion of their trials. Furthermore, five cases were transferred to national courts in Rwanda and France.

Justice experts have reflected on challenges, gains in the trial of perpetrators of Genocide against the Tutsi.