Why I wouldn’t lose sleep over HRW claims on Gacaca

Before I dive into the gist of the subject, I must commend Human Rights Watch for succeeding in confusing me the more, on what they stand for. Is it about Human rights promotion or is human rights used as a scapegoat to keep donor taps flowing?Up to now, I have failed to clearly understand the rationale and basis for their latest attacks on Gacaca.

Before I dive into the gist of the subject, I must commend Human Rights Watch for succeeding in confusing me the more, on what they stand for. Is it about Human rights promotion or is human rights used as a scapegoat to keep donor taps flowing? 

Up to now, I have failed to clearly understand the rationale and basis for their latest attacks on Gacaca. Did HRW want immunity for the perpetrators of genocide or did they want endless judicial procedures for which they could find a fertile ground to harvest in the name of rights’ defence?

Interestingly, I seem not to be the only one confused with their report. Even the Dutch Ambassador who should be in a better position to understand the language of the likes of HRW, RSF, was equally perplexed.

In his own words, he challenged the authenticity of the methodology, questioning how a sample of a handful cases could render the over 1.2 million verdicts “flawed or unfair”.

“The title and timing of the report is not appropriate. It comes at the time when the government has promised to evaluate Gacaca courts and review cases that did not go well. 

I find it harsh, unfair and imbalanced,” said Ambassador Frans Makken

If these were comments from a Rwandan official, cynics would dismiss them as the usual government rhetoric.

But they come from a representative of one of the countries that bankrolls them and raise issues of credibility and expose the malevolence in the report.
 
This is why the Ambassador makes a lot sense.

Firstly, we need to draw back to the dilemma that Rwanda faced in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

Not only had this nation lost over one million people but the RPF inherited a mess where all systems of governance had been completely shattered.
 
For example within the justice sector alone, the effects were evident even seen years after the genocide. In 2001 up to 130,000 people were languishing in prison, awaiting trial for their role in the killings.
 
The situation in classical court structures did not offer any solution. By 2003, only 67 of 900 members of the judiciary had the legal training. Only 18 out of 89 prosecutors had been to a law class. 

Analysts concluded that for Rwanda to use the normal courts it would take up to 100 years to complete the backlog of cases and yet like they say, Justice delayed is Justice denied.

The only alternative was to fall-back to the way the nation’s forefathers’ amicably solved disputes or settled scores, hence Gacaca!

Fully rolled out in 2004, Gacaca has had far outstanding achievements given the nature and magnitude of the problem it had to solve.
 
Where cases were projected to last 100 years in the normal courts, it has taken only 6 years for Gacaca to accomplish them.

It has tried over 1.2 million suspects. Of these, life sentences constitute only 8 percent while 30 percent are all acquittals.

Compare this to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) which started in 1997, four years earlier than Gacaca. 

For the last 14 years of their existence, they have managed to complete only 54 cases and a dozen more remain unfinished.

In fact if there’s any success that the ICTR has achieved, that would be making its employees and associates wealthier than dispensing justice to the victims of the Genocide. This partly explains the slowness in their proceedings.

 For example it has spent close to $2billion in total budget, 80 times more than Gacaca has cost Rwandans.
And yet for Rwandans, Gacaca has produced 100 times, the results of ICTR.

Gacaca’s successes are quite many but the most outstanding one is enhancing reconciliation among Rwandans.

It has greatly enhanced reconciliation because of its guiding principle of truth telling. Today survivors are able to live side-by side with the very people who killed their kith and kin simply because of the openness in exposing what happened and the forgiveness on the part of the survivors.

Gacaca was not about justice only. It was about exposing the truth, open dialogue, personal reflections and seeking forgiveness.

We all know that without forgiveness life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. This is not what Rwandans want.

However, a process like this, which had never been tested in modern history, would definitely have its own flaws.

What I disagree with, is an NGO like HRW summarizing its key successes into an irresponsible statement like “miscarriage of justice.”

This is not only unfair but also being myopic when contextualizing issues or simply criticizing for the sake of registering a comment. Should we lose sleep over this? Phew!

Aasiimwe.wordpress.com, on twitter @aasiimwe

ADVERTISEMENT