The anticipated closure of Gacaca courts in the country as the year comes to an end will among other achievements be a mile stone in the history of justice in Rwanda. Five years after it was launched with the specific aim of bringing to justice those who carried out the 1994 Genocide, Gacaca has stood the test of time.
At this point in time, it can be safely stated without any fear of contradiction that Gacaca has proved that justice systems indigenous to Rwanda and Africa in general can offer solutions to acts of injustice that take place in a local setting.
The large number of victims and suspects that arose in the aftermath of the Genocide of 1994 was a problem that required an indigenous justice system.
Gacaca specifically as a justice system radically departs from the western model of justice that seeks punitive measures as a means of delivering justice in society.
Gacaca which is an old traditional system is communal and involves the entire membership of the community who are ably represented by the community elders- inyangamugayo. Unlike the western model it seeks to restore social harmony and corrects the wrongs done on the victims.
The contemporary Gacaca system like the traditional one of old does not in essence seek retribution although it seeks to deliver justice to the victims of the Genocide. This, one can state is the basis of the Gacaca superiority in bringing about reconciliation as compared to western justice systems.
Five years down the road since the establishment of Gacaca courts to try the massive numbers of the perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide, the country is on the fast track towards national reconciliation and social harmony.
This experience with Gacaca has been a successful experiment in justice. The problem it sought to solve was a unique one that had not been handled before.
A government that controlled the state led by divisive politicians had used its citizens to commit mass murder and Genocide. It was therefore necessary for the state though controlled by a different government and a new breed of leadership to take the lead in bringing about justice and reconciliation.
At the beginning of the Gacaca court justice system a lot of criticism came from different quarters especially with in international circles. It was then argued by groups like amnesty international that Gacaca courts did not meet international standards of judicial procedure.
In international judicial systems which are synonymous with western legal regimes people presiding over cases must be trained in the western legal model.
However given the magnitude of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 and the effects of its aftermath, it would be irrational to insist on such procedures, Indeed the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) based in Arusha can be said to adhere to such procedures to the latter. But in the many years it has existed and after spending billions of dollars there is little to show in terms of cases that have been successfully tried. Around thirty cases in a span of a decade have been tried to bring about justice for millions of people who were affected by the 1994 Genocide.
In comparison to the Gacaca court system which in a shorter time has successfully tried thousands of cases, the international tribunal could be said to have been a miscarriage of justice.
Many people who were affected by the Genocide have been able to see that justice has been done.
As a principle in law justice must be seen to be done. The International tribunal is far removed from the Rwandan social situation and setting.
So for a common person in a Rwandan village, the proceedings of the international tribunal have no bearing on his life as it is far removed from his environment.
But Gacaca has served to bring justice home. A local peasant can see for himself that justice has prevailed. He can therefore be able on that basis to live in harmony with people who wronged him.
As Gacaca courts come to a close, it can be safely stated that although it may not have been a perfect system of bringing about justice and reconciliation, it has been so far the most practical and cost effective method of restoring justice to a people that were victims of a large scale Genocide that was unprecedented in history.