Government and Parliament should fast-track ongoing legal amendments to limit grounds on which Genocide convicts who were tried under Gacaca courts can appeal for review of their cases in conventional courts, an official has said.
Jean-Damascène Bizimana, the executive-secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), told The New Times last week that there is enough evidence so far to suggest that most of the appeals are fake, with the applicants taking advantage of an ambiguous law to try their luck.
He said that 99 per cent of Gacaca verdicts were confirmed as fair by conventional courts after thousands of cases were reviewed by the courts in the last five years as convicts applied for the reviews.
“Experience from courts so far should give us enough confidence to repeal the law and remain with limited grounds on which people can appeal,” he said.
The law that closed the Gacaca courts did not spell out conditions under which cases conclusively adjudicated by the semi-traditional courts can be brought up for review in the conventional courts.
Gacaca courts, which exclusively tried Genocide suspects, closed in 2012 after a decade having tried 1,958,634 cases.
In 2013, 814 people wrote to CNLG seeking retrial of their Gacaca cases. The following year (2014), 702 filed for same and in 2015 the number increased to 1,197 convicts.
In 2016, 1,154 filed while last year (2017), 815 cases were filed, according to available statistics from CNLG.
The body has been visiting prisons to sensitise convicts not to try and dismiss their sentences which were arrived at basing on evidence.
“We went to prisons to explain to the convicts what the law means because in the past they would apply without any grounds,” Bizimana said.
Under a 2012 law that terminates Gacaca courts and determines mechanisms for solving issues which were under their jurisdictions, there are four grounds on which an application for the review of a judgement rendered by a Gacaca court can be made and the review is conducted by a competent court.
The first one is if a person was convicted of homicide by a Gacaca Court final judgement and after the person alleged to have been killed is found alive.
The second one is if a person is definitely convicted of homicide by a Gacaca court and it is their only crime and later another person is convicted of the same crime while there is no complicity between the two.
The third ground is if, after a person has been acquitted by a Gacaca court, it is found beyond reasonable doubt that there is reliable information disclosed during the period of collecting information that was unknown at the time of adjudicating the case and which however proves the defendant’s criminal responsibility.
The fourth ground is if a person has been convicted or acquitted in a Gacaca court final judgement and later it is found that the bench which rendered the decision was corrupt as decided by a competent court.
The four grounds are stipulated in article 10 of the law terminating Gacaca courts, which also stipulates that a decision taken by a conventional court after a review of judgement shall not be subject to any appeal.
The review of a Gacaca judgement can be requested only by the victim, the convicted person, or the public prosecution.
Bizimana said that most convicts apply for review of their cases based on the second ground and argue that they have new evidence that suggests they didn’t kill the victim since someone else did.
It’s a shallow argument, the official said, ‘‘because most of the convicts were accomplices in killing victims as they were part of groups that attacked the victims even if one of the participants may plead guilty of killing a specific person.’’
“When we do investigations we find out that the victim was not killed by one person but by a group of people and the applicant who claims to be innocent tends to also be guilty of the crime as a result of their belonging to the group that killed victims. Most applicants are normally aware that they aren’t innocent but they just give it a try in what they commonly call ‘gauging the mood’,” he said.
Bizimana said that a law should be enacted to stop these ‘‘unfounded appeals’’ by specifying that those who can appeal should have serious grounds such as in the case where a person who was said to be killed is found alive.
“Here, at CNLG, we feel that should be the only ground under which Gacaca convicts can appeal,” he said, meaning the case where a person who was said to be killed is found alive.
Both CNLG and Ibuka, the umbrella organisation for Genocide survivors in Rwanda, have petitioned the Government to amend the law terminating Gacaca courts in order to restrict the admissibility of appeals by convicts.
Previously, the president of Ibuka said that convicts shouldn’t be given more room to challenge the judgements because Gacaca did a fairly good job.
In response to the call, the Government has initiated amendments to the country’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which are currently being reviewed by Parliament.
The Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, told The New Times on Wednesday that amendments to the criminal procedure were proposed in order to clarify the grounds under which appeals to Gacaca verdicts can be made and stop abuse.
“It was found that review applications based on certain generalised grounds are disingenuous, trial of one’s luck, lacked merit and wasted alot of courts’ time and we proposed amendments to the criminal procedure code, to clarify the grounds and stem the abuse,” he said.
The minister said that, once the criminal procedure revision becomes law, it will help ensure that genuine cases are reviewed while there will be a high admissibility standard for those shown to be spurious and prone to abuse.
Introduced by the Government in 2002 as a community-based justice system, Gacaca courts were used to try hundreds of thousands of Genocide perpetrators and restore the social fabric of society.
The courts, which are credited with laying the foundation for peace, reconciliation and unity in Rwanda in June 2012 after trying 1,958,634 Genocide related cases.