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Serious miscarriages of justice need national court review, Human Rights Watch says

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Kigali, May 31, 2011 - Rwanda's community-based gacaca courts have helped communities confront the country's 1994 genocide but have failed to provide credible decisions and justice in a number of cases, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. As the gacaca courts wind down their work, Rwanda should set up specialized units in the national court system to review alleged miscarriages of justice, Human Rights Watch said.

The 144-page report, "Justice Compromised: The Legacy of Rwanda's Community-Based Gacaca Courts," assesses the courts' achievements and outlines a number of serious shortcomings in their work, including corruption and procedural irregularities. The report also examines the government's decision to transfer genocide-related rape cases to the gacaca courts and to exclude from their jurisdiction crimes committed by soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the country's ruling party since the genocide ended in July 1994.

"Rwanda's ambitious experiment in transitional justice will leave a mixed legacy," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The courts have helped Rwandans better understand what happened in 1994, but in many cases flawed trials have led to miscarriages of justice."

The report is based on Human Rights Watch observing over 2,000 days of gacaca trials, reviewing more than 350 cases, and interviews with hundreds of participants from all sides of the gacaca process, including accused persons, genocide survivors, witnesses, other community members, judges, and local and national government officials.

Since 2005, more than12,000 community-based courts have tried 1.2 million cases relating to the 1994 genocide. The violence killed more than half a million people, mostly from the country's minority Tutsi population. The community courts are known as gacaca - "grass" in the country's Kinyarwanda language, referring to the place where communities traditionally gathered to resolve disputes. The courts were scheduled to finish trials by mid-2010, but their closure was postponed in October 2010. In May 2011, the minister of justice reportedly announced that gacaca courts would officially close by December 2011.

Gacaca courts were established in 2001 to address the overload of cases in the conventional justice system and a prison crisis. By 1998, 130,000 genocide suspects were crammed into prison space designed to accommodate 12,000, resulting in inhumane conditions and thousands of deaths. Between December 1996 and early 1998, conventional courts had tried only 1,292 genocide suspects, leading to broad agreement that a new approach was needed to speed up trials.

Rwanda's 2001 gacaca law sought to resolve the bottleneck. The new gacaca courts, with government oversight but limited due process guarantees, combined modern criminal law with more traditional informal community procedures.

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To read the report, click here:

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