KAMPALA - A UN court trying the 1994 Rwanda Genocide key suspects in Arusha, Tanzania, has praised Gacaca jurisdictions in Rwanda for their contribution to the country’s justice system.
A spokesman and senior legal Adviser of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Roland Amoussouga, said over the weekend in Kampala, Uganda, that the community-based Rwandan courts had helped bringing about justice and reconciliation in a society that had been left sharply divided that the Genocide.
“Gacaca courts have done a lot of tremendous work. They have helped in bringing justice and reconciliation in Rwanda because they are based on Rwandan tradition,” Amoussouga told reporters.
Gacaca was reintroduced in Rwanda following the Genocide to help expedite justice, promote reconciliation and participation as well as ascertain the truth surrounding the killings since individuals – both suspects and witnesses – are given opportunity to give their side of the story before an elected panel of respected judges.
The judges, who are referred to as Inyangamugayo, meaning ‘persons of integrity’ in Kinyarwanda, are elected from the communities in which the accused are alleged to have committed the crime.
In just few years hundreds of thousands of Genocide suspects have been prosecuted through Gacaca courts, although experts say that it would have taken at least 100 years to try those cases under the classical court system.
“We (ICTR) and Gacaca courts compliment each other to help the people receive justice .The ICTR specifically helps Rwanda to track fugitives abroad who may not be reached by the local courts,” the UN court’s official said.
Gacaca is officially due to wind up its work at the close of 2007, with some courts already having completed their cases.
The press conference was attended by ICTR president Rt. Hon. Judge Dennis Byron. Both officials attended the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala, during which they appealed to Commonwealth countries to help apprehend Genocide fugitives who are still at large in member countries.
“Kenya has been very helpful in terms of facilitation in the region though there are still some fugitives hiding there,” Amoussouga said in apparent reference to fugitives such as big fish Felicien Kabuga, the suspected chief financier of the 100-day killings that claimed at least one million lives.
Since its establishment in 1994, the UN court has completed 28 cases, with five acquittals.
The tribunal has also said that it is highly unlikely it will meet its 2008 deadline to close shop on first instance cases and 2010 for appeals.
The tribunal is conducting trials for scores of suspects and is still looking for at least thirteen others that remain at large.