Genocide survivors have sharply criticised the way Gacaca courts are operating, saying they handle suspects with kid gloves and end up failing to end the culture of impunity.
Theodole Simburudare, the president of Ibuka, a national Genocide survivors’ umbrella, said on Friday that Gacaca courts render sentences that are by far less compared to the magnitude of the crimes committed by the accused.
He was speaking during Ibuka Congress at Kabusunzu Centre, Kigali, which aimed at examining the achievements, challenges and the way forward of Gacaca courts.
“We have observed many problems in the Gacaca process including torture and death of witnesses, which is perpetrated by Genocide suspects and sympathisers.
This has stopped many from telling the truth in Gacaca courts,” Simburudare said. He added that survivors have been told by different people that testifying against those who killed their families does not solve anything, but only fuels conflicts.
“They ask them what they are after saying that they want to keep people in prisons. Survivors go through difficult situations, but despite this, they have continued to testify in Gacaca (courts),” he decried.
Simburudare also said that some people have decided to keep quiet on what they know about the 1994 Genocide by forming associations such as Ceceka (keep quiet).
He charged that suspects are trying other suspects, adding that there are also Genocide suspects among leaders. The Ibuka boss also said that some Gacaca judges are themselves Genocide suspects.
“Some successfully protected their relatives who were prisons on Genocide charges,” he argued.He also said that some Gacaca judges are under-qualified in some cases.
The official also said that some witnesses have been confused by the fact that some times they are asked to testify in different Gacaca courts at the same time.
“An individual can be called upon to witness in more than one Gacaca court at once; as a result where she or he doesn’t go to one of them, thus the court declares the accused innocent,” he said.
He also claimed that some Gacaca judges have in some cases been bribed by suspects or their relatives.
Simburudare criticised the law governing Gacaca jurisdictions indicating that the recent amendment of the 2004 law came with significant lessening of punishments for suspects. He said the revised law removed many suspects from the first category to the second category, leading to significant reduction in sentences.
As a result, he said, survivors have lost hope in Gacaca justice. He added that this became worse when tens of thousands of Genocide suspects were later granted provisional release.
However Justice minister Tharsis Karugarama, defended Gacaca courts, saying that they have helped address a big number of Genocide-related cases.
“I cannot say Gacaca courts have achieved 100 percent of what was expected of them. What I know is that we will find the best way of addressing those existing problems,” he said during the congress.
The minister added that courts have managed to try cases in a short time possible, which is an unusual way of problem solving compared to what happens in other countries.
He explained that Gacaca courts that will not have finalised their cases by December 31 will go on. Gacaca courts started way back in 2001 to help expedite justice for hundreds of thousands of Genocide suspects, end impunity and promote unity and reconciliation.