Some serious allegations have been leveled against the Gacaca courts. The courts have been accused of handling suspects with kid gloves, often handing them light sentences that mock the justice system and do nothing to allay survivors’ pain but instead promotes a culture of impunity.
These chilling statements are attributed to Theodore Simburudare, the president of Ibuka, the national umbrella of Genocide survivors. He was mostly concerned with some deaths of witnesses that are construed to mean threats against bearing witness in the Gacaca courts, and the fact that some Gacaca courts are headed by judges who were themselves Genocide suspects. And so many other charges.
It may well be that Gacaca has some failings. It is never good to measure the achievements of a system by only looking at its weaknesses, when everyone knows that there are many successes that can be attributed to Gacaca. Rendering justice put aside as the basic function for their coming into being, Gacaca courts have been instrumental in dispensing unity and reconciliation that no other forum could. Perpetrators and victim survivors have met on the floor of a Gacaca court, where the former have shed tears and begged to be forgiven for their past horrendous activities, whereupon the survivors have undergone a soul searching, and come up with the noble sentiment of forgiving them.
And how about the inclusiveness of the whole society in deciding the fate of their tormentors? There is a very big case for the whole society to take charge in shaping their future together. These two seem like very big scores for Gacaca.
But the concerns of the survivors cannot be underestimated. Gacaca is a good system, but it can be made better. The charges made by Ibuka president are real, and they can be tackled in order to leave a stronger institution. There is no institution operating on 100 percent effectiveness, as they are all just building capacity; so the story of Gacaca courts is in essence the story of the whole of Rwanda.
Let us combine efforts to make Gacaca jurisdictions better.