The adage that ‘not only must justice done; it must also be seen to be done’, constitutes a very important principle of the rule of law. It implies that the validity of a justice system is premised on public consent or approval of justice delivered.
To ordinary citizens, courts constitute a ‘learned’ impartial system that mediates in all sorts of human conflict. They could be political, economic or social.
The citizenry expect the law and the legal system by which society is governed to deliver justice in a manner that is beyond reproach otherwise their legitimacy is cast in bad light.
Failure to demonstrate a sense of fairness and honesty consistent with the law might result in public crisis of confidence.
This does not, however, suggest that the public must agree with every court decision nor should all decisions be pleasing to the public but that courts should take their responsibility seriously without being complacent or arrogant in discharging justice.
Convention has it that court rulings prevail over most other institutional decisions. That is as it should be, and perhaps explain Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama guarded comment after former Prefet Zigiranyirazo was set free by ICTR.
In effect the minister said that his government upholds court decisions but hastened to add that the Arusha court ruling had or was likely to elicit displeasure if not outrage from genocide survivors in particular and Rwandans generally.
Indeed genocide survivors’ associations under Ibuka, an umbrella organization of genocide survivors, staged a demonstration denouncing the court ruling and immediately suspended cooperation with The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR.
To Ibuka president Theodore Simburudari, Justice was not seen to be done or rather what transpired in the cases of Protais Zigiranyirazo.
Unfettered by judicial niceties (expected of jurists) Simburudari justifiably launched scathing attacks on the Arusha International tribunal, citing incompetence, corruption among others. Although I am no expert in the field of law, I can recognize a logical legal argument.
According to Simbudari, from 1990 Mr.‘Z’ as Zigiranyirazo was notoriously called, was a senior member of the Akazu and was responsible for the massacre of Tutsis- Bagwoge.
Of course here, we can’t go into the merits of the case, but considering that Gacaca cases in that area have generated sufficient evidence to support the man’s role in the massacres, it is hard for eyewitnesses and victims of those heinous acts of human violation to believe that the ICTR Appeals Chamber‘s reversal of the conviction of Protais Zigiranyizo, was fair judgment.
Last year ICTR Trial Chamber III found Zigiranyirazo guilty of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity by participating in a joint criminal enterprise to kill Tutsis at Kesho Hill in Gisenyi on 8 April 1994 and sentenced him to two terms of 20 years. He was also sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for aiding and abetting genocide in relation to the killing of Tutsis at a roadblock in the Kiyovu, Kigali.
The law may be technical and remote to laymen but to acquit such a person on all accounts “after finding factual errors “in the lower court’s “assessment of his alibi in respect of the events on which his convictions were based” as the judgment suggests, is not convincing to witnesses of the 1994 Tutsi genocide. Members of the public have openly voiced their perceptions on the judgment.
One Epimaque Samvura a former judicial police official and member of Z’s football club told the press that his former Prefet trained and armed interahamwe responsible for the death of 1,000 people in Nyabihu.
Yves Nkusi who witnessed genocide in Ruhengeri was outraged by Zigiranyirazo’s acquittal. The New Times quoted him as saying “Zigiranyirazo appointed all the councilors and Burgomasters of the sectors throughout the prefecture, he picked only those who were loyal to him, he arranged the meetings to exterminate the Tutsi,’’ Given such testimonies and the fact that some of his lieutenants have been sentenced for the crimes he masterminded, what is expected of the public. One may be tempted to attribute the apparent miscarriage of justice to the technicalities of legal procedures involving a court sitting far from the scene of the crimes, but does it demonstrate equality, equity and consistence before the law?
The Gacaca System is more appropriate to post-genocide justice mainly because it seems to have embraced principles of restorative justice.
According to the policy center for victim’s issues of the Canada department of Justice, “The fundamental principle is that restorative justice must not re-victimize the victim in any way.
The process and the outcome should not cause further harm”. Restorative justice seeks to engage both the victim and the accused to work together in finding a peaceful reconciliation.
Wrong doers are required to recognize harm done to individuals and society, where possible make reparations. Victims on the other hand are afforded an opportunity to freely (and vulunatrilty) express their feelings.