Government is working diligently and thoroughly to track down the more than 1000 Gacaca convicts who didn’t serve their sentences but officials have said it’s a task being carefully done to avoid mistakes.
This was said yesterday by the Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, in an exclusive interview with The New Times.
A fortnight ago, officials from the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) raised a red flag when they told Parliament that over 1,538 people who were convicted by Gacaca Courts were still at large.
What was especially surprising in CNLG’s revelations was that at least 1,000 suspected fugitives were believed to be living in Rwanda, having moved from their home areas after the Genocide and settled in other parts of the country to evade justice.
While the news left many Rwandans wondering why the Government wasn’t arresting them, Minister Busingye said yesterday that the issue is more complicated than those outside the legal expertise may think because not every suspected Gacaca convict roaming free is effectively a fugitive.
Busingye said that while some of the names out of the more than 1,000 suspected fugitives may indeed be of real fugitives, others may have been singled out by people who knew the convicts but were either unaware of how they served their sentences or whether they appealed to higher Gacaca courts.
That’s why, the minister said, a thorough investigation is needed in order to ascertain that all the suspected Gacaca fugitives believed to be in the country are indeed fugitives who must be arrested and brought to justice.
“We are actively pursuing this issue. We must be very thorough with the way we do it because it must be legal,” he said.
He explained that in order for any of the suspected fugitives to be arrested, a thorough investigation is first conducted to ensure that there is a Gacaca court decision about them and information beyond reasonable doubt that they didn’t serve their sentence.
“We need to be thorough so that we don’t make mistakes,” he said, adding that a lot of investigation work is ongoing behind the scenes to track down the suspected fugitives.
The minister said that different institutions, including districts, CNLG, and other institutions in the judicial sector are working together on the matter.
Busingye said that about 238 Gacaca fugitives were arrested inside the country last year and locked up as part of efforts to compel them to serve their sentences.
While Gacaca Courts closed shop six years ago after trying nearly two million people over the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, not everyone who was convicted served their sentence.
Some convicts escaped justice and have since settled in parts of the country where they are not known by residents.
The president of Ibuka, the umbrella organisation for Genocide survivors in Rwanda, Prof Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, told The New Times yesterday that, for example, there are situations where fugitives left their homes in Southern Province’s Huye District and settled in Eastern Province’s Nyagatare District.
“Gacaca convicts roaming free as fugitives is not news but what we are saying is that institutions like districts, the National Identification Agency (NIDA), and judicial institutions should work together and help identify these people, track them down, and arrest them so they can serve their sentences,” he said in an interview.
As for CNLG’s Executive Secretary, Jean Damascène Bizimana, different government institutions are exactly doing that; working together to ensure that the fugitives are eventually brought to justice.
CNLG revelations to Parliament indicated that of the 1,538 people that the body suspects to have been convicted by Gacaca Courts but didn’t serve their sentences, only 204 are known to have fled to other countries, while the rest are still believed to be within Rwandan borders.
Of those believed to be in Rwanda, officials at CNLG claim that addresses for 167 fugitives are known.