Parliament is currently debating a draft law which when passed will extend the jurisdiction of Gacaca tribunals and allow them to hear some Category One Genocide cases. These mainly consist of people who planned the genocide and have been a preserve of conventional courts of law.
The exclusively Rwanda traditional jurisprudence has up to now only possessed legal powers over Genocide crimes that fall in categories Two and Three. The cause for the intended change can only mean well, but that is a view for which consensus is still being sought.
First the reasons underlying the development: Gacaca has done a tremendous job by dispensing justice at a rate commensurate with the size of the task at hand. At one time the number of people under custody because of their role in the Genocide was more than 10 percent of their one million victims.
Provisional releases under a 2003 Presidential Decree have since had the biggest part in bringing the number of those still held down to about sixty thousand. And provision of this famous partial freedom is only possible because Gacaca exists out there to deal with the cases of those released.
Gacaca has proved wrong its doubters by competently handling cases in a manner which not only promotes justice, but enhances reconciliation at the same time. You can safely come to the conclusion that the jurisdiction over Category One cases has been earned because Gacaca has excelled in the objectives it was set up to achieve.
The other reason is that the classical courts are under pressure resulting from a backlog of cases. Almost ten thousand cases – 8, 731 awaiting trial and 1200 under trial – are in Category One.
To these add the soon to be effected transfers from ICTR in Arusha, three suspects from France and four from the United Kingdom.
Consider also that the Prosecutor General’s office so far has appealed to more than fifty countries to extradite to Rwanda Genocide suspects they hold, and responses have been positive.
Yet with only 12 state prosecutors qualified to take on suspects in Category One, it means that the manpower size on the ground has not been suitable, even before more come in.
Ibuka, an umbrella organisation of Genocide Survivors is of the view that to allow Gacaca to hear some Category One cases is to play down the gravity of the matter. In its own right, the association has raised concern. It argues that the bill if passed into law will undervalue Genocide.
It is a logical concern. However, even more logical is the high rating Gacaca has earned and the reality about the insufficient conventional justice infrastructure and manpower, vis-à-vis the huge number of suspects awaiting trial. These two combine to allay the fears of Ibuka that when Parliament finally makes the law, it will be out of careful consideration.