Law experts, scholars, and policy makers meeting at an international conference on genocide in Kigali have said there is need for increased efforts to pursue justice if Rwandans are to keep healing, reconciling, and building their country.
The three-day conference opened yesterday at Parliament Building in Kigali, ahead of the 20th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which will take place on Monday.
More than 200 delegates, among them parliamentarians, policymakers, scholars and media personalities, took part in the forum, which is running under the theme: “After Genocide: Examining legacy, taking responsibility”.
It aims at assessing Rwanda’s response to a situation unprecedented in recent human history - the complete destruction of a society and nation.
The call to maintain momentum in pursuit of justice was made on the first day of the forum, which allowed delegates to look at how the homegrown justice system contributed to new ways of managing transitional justice in line with reconstruction of society.
Rwanda’s Justice minister Johnston Busingye reminded participants that genocide suspects remain at large in different corners of the world and called for cooperation in arresting and bringing them to justice.
“We will not relent; we will continue searching for them but we need the support of everyone,” he said.
Most discussants commended the achievements of Gacaca courts, an exceptional mechanism that post-Genocide Rwandan policy makers introduced to try hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was also the centre of discussions as an institution that helped arrest masterminds of the Genocide that killed more than a million Rwandans.
But the ICTR was also criticised for disappointing many in some of its rulings, a flaw that some experts attributed to its lack of touch with the Rwandan society and failure to understand circumstances in which the Genocide took place.
Analysts say that compared with what would have been achieved using classic courts, lessons learnt after administering justice through the Gacaca community-led justice system have left many wishing that both could serve in trying extreme atrocities in other parts of the world.
Barbara Mulvaney, who served as a lead prosecutor in Theoneste
Bagosora’s trial at the ICTR, held back tears as she shared her discovery through investigating allegations against Bagosora that a lot of the evidence just couldn’t be expressed through usual techniques used in conventional courts.
“The types of legal procedures available were inadequate. So, it has to be reworked and it’s unfortunate that it couldn’t have been reworked before,” she said in an interview.
Mulvaney is now a proponent of considering systems like Gacaca courts along with classic courts when it comes to trying crimes of mass atrocities anywhere in the world.
“I think that getting away from the western format and going into a more traditional format is probably better for reconciliation,” she said.
She explained that every community has a justice system known to everybody.
“You don’t need justice from far away. One of the problems with the ICTR is that many of the people who were sitting in judgements didn’t have the cultural background to understand what was happening. So, it’s important for justice to be done by people who are vested in the process,” she added.
The session about justice after genocide at the forum yesterday was moderated by Tim Gallimore, a former ICTR spokesperson.
Other panelists included Andrew Wallis, a researcher and lecturer, Alain Gauthier, an activist who has helped indict many Genocide suspects living in France, and Vagn Joensen, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
The Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Donatille Mukabalisa, told participants that the country’s current political orientation took inspiration from Rwandan history and culture, as well as post-Genocide challenges.
They included how to get good governance, justice, reconciliation, and taking care of survivors, as well as continuing to fight against the genocide ideology.
Mukabalisa added that Rwandans have achieved a lot since the end of the Genocide even though a lot more remains to be achieved.
The First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, attended the conference.