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Local Rwanda genocide courts close their doors

posted 18 Jun 2012, 12:25 by Mpelembe   [ updated 18 Jun 2012, 12:25 ]

Rwandan President Paul Kagame says village courts dealing with the country's 1994 genocide 'exceeded expectations' as he officially announces their end.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame brought to a close on Monday (June 18) one of the world's biggest justice systems to try up to a million suspects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The traditional village courts known as Gacaca, processed an eighth of the population, according to government figures.

Many people who were due to testify in the courts were attacked or disappeared, but Kagame hailed them as a success

"Cases in Gacaca courts have served us very well and even exceeded what we expected," Kagame said.

"The Gacaca courts were an important end in itself for justice and reconciliation. In fact they served a purpose far greater than reconciliation, and peace comes in the sense of purpose it brings Rwanda and has been able to make progress that is very evident."

Radical ethnic Hutu militias and soldiers killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over 100 days in the central African nation after the killing of President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose plane was shot down on April 6, 1994.

The genocide was halted when Tutsi rebels led by current President Paul Kagame took over the country from neighboring Uganda in July of that year.

At a closing ceremony at the Nyarugunga court, a district in the capital Kigali, both survivors and perpetrators of the crimes came together.

The courts used villagers' testimony to sort out those involved in the massacre.

Focusing on confession and apology, the traditional courts were used to ease the backlog of genocide cases. They were also intended to ease the way to national reconciliation.

Under the system, those who confessed and pleaded guilty before a set date had their sentences reduced.

Some survivors of the genocide hailed the system.

"The Gacaca courts were so helpful for all the people because everyone could talk in court. Then the trial was so quick, while the formal courts take so long. Most importantly we knew how our family members were killed and where their bodies were buried, with the normal justice system that was not possible. Now all the trials are finished," said genocide survivor Esther Mukamabano.

One perpetrator also spoke at the ceremony, saying the village courts were more effective than the formal justice system.

"I was arrested in 1996, when I arrived in prison, we started with the formal justice system where I lied to everyone because none of them were able to judge me based on what I had said but when I was taken to the Gacaca, I could not hide the truth because the local people knew what I had done during the genocide," said Ernest Nyamubi who was accused of participating in the genocide.

Analysts say some Rwandans fled the country for fear of being paraded before the courts.