Gacaca: A Kenyan’s viewpoint on the judicial system

Working in the media, I have been closely learning about Rwanda since 2001 and in doing so, have struggled to come to terms with Rwanda’s  grassroots judicial system -Gacaca .I have since learnt that it was a traditional remedy meant to tackle the problems caused by one of the most heinous crimes ever to visit our Continent.

Working in the media, I have been closely learning about Rwanda since 2001 and in doing so, have struggled to come to terms with Rwanda’s  grassroots judicial system -Gacaca .I have since learnt that it was a traditional remedy meant to tackle the problems caused by one of the most heinous crimes ever to visit our Continent.

Given the gravity and enormity of the situation, I could not help but reflect on a few things. For instance, how meeting the needs of the survivors for justice while focusing on the future must have been a huge challenge.

To me the most daunting was finding the best approach to seek accountability.  The plea bargain system was one such innovation that made Gacaca stand out.

Reconciliation is a very key component needed to help rebuild its social which was torn. I have a sense that that Gacaca represents an important ‘sewing machine’ for mending this torn fabric.

This point has been steadfastly ignored by international human rights activists who have been critical of Gacaca.

In fact, I find it miraculous that justice, under the circumstances, was even possible.

In my understanding the genocidaires, as if predicting that justice would somehow have to be served, sought to destroy the country’s judicial system before making their retreat to the DRC; therefore, leaving the country without feasible means of carrying out justice.

This meant that the limited resources that the international community and other actors could muster in the form of the Arusha based ICTR and the Rwandan national courts system meant that justice could only be dispensed selectively.

This by implication meant that only the authors of Genocide could be accorded trial leaving the thousands upon thousands who had participated to walk away without any form of accountability.

In this case I think it was critical that a way had to be found to redress what amounted to a judicial anomaly.

Given such a background I can only conclude by saying that Gacaca was a solution that came into being through extreme prudence and a well thought out risk assessment.

This is in stark contrast to Kenya’s situation whereby as a country, and as a people, we have not yet got a strategy to try the perpetrators of the 2007 post-election violence.

As Kenyans we are still not sure whether the Hague system (international justice), a purely western methodology, can deliver accountability or whether a home grown system such as Gacaca would deliver a better outcome.

I have to say cheers to Rwandans for one thing in which they are different from Kenyans. Given the complexity of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the leadership here has exhibited rare bold risk taking by taking a home grown process instead of the standard Western approach. 

The author is a journalist with The New Times

Ojiwah@gmail.com

 

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