Convicts gang up in prison yards to exploit loopholes in Gacaca courts

Friday March 27 2015

Some of the genocide convicts and suspects in Mpanga Prison, which is in Southern Province. PHOTO | DANIEL S NTWARI |

Barely three years after Gacaca courts were legally declared to have finished their work and closed have a number of unresolved cases emerged, casting a dark shadow on the legacy of the traditional courts.

The number of genocide convicts seeking retrial of their cases is growing by the day, raising fears that it might overwhelm the capacity of the institutions charged with resolving them.

In particular, survivors are concerned by the rate at which genocide cases which had been decided are returning to contemporary courts on appeal.

This is mainly because the mechanism put in place before the grassroots genocide courts wound up allows cases that had not been completed before April 2012 as the Gacaca Courts prepared to wind up that July to be tried in contemporary courts. It also provided that those not satisfied by their convictions in Gacaca may appeal in the contemporary courts for a retrial.

READ: Success and pitfalls of Gacaca courts as hearings wind up

Rwanda Today has learnt that, as at December last year, more than 3,000 convicts had requested that their cases be reviewed, and the number is increasing.


Some convicts have said their cases were not handled satisfactorily while others claim they were acquitted by some courts but ended up convicted by Gacaca. Yet others say their case files are missing, so they should not be in prison.

Trigger wave of genocide ideology

Survivors contend that this could trigger a wave of genocide ideology as families of the victims, who believe justice had been served, are pitted against those of the suspects, who think their kin’s conviction was not just.

READ: EDITORIAL: Rwanda govt must intensify war on genocide ideology

“They come everyday,” Jean Bosco Gasasira, an archiving supervisor and public relations at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), told Rwanda Today. “The number of convicts seeking retrial increases everyday.

“They sit and arrange these things in prison. You find 10 letters written with one handwriting; it’s a team work thing.”

On the claims raised by convicts, especially where some claim to be innocent, Mr Gasasira said cases like these have come up but only to find out that these claims are illegitimate, that courts in other places actually gave them a much heavier sentence.

“Many people committed genocide in more than one area; for some people who claim innocence in their area, after some digging we have found out that they were sentenced heavily by courts in other areas where they committed genocide,” Mr Gasasira noted.

He added that some people were found to be innocent or given lenient sentences in their home areas but then convicted or handed heavier sentences in other areas where they committed genocide. This is due to the fact that some people didn’t kill in their home areas but killed in other areas; some even killed in their home areas and in other places but, due to influence peddling, they were pronounced innocent.

“It is a lot of work to physically look for particular files,” Mr Gasasira said. “Some retrials are just meant to undermine the work done by Gacaca.

“We shall however do our best to follow through on each case, because we have every case file of Gacaca cases, until we prove everything.”

However, with the ongoing digitisation of the genocide cases archives, it will be much easier to track cases on an individual basis since one will just have to key in a convict’s name and all information regarding their crimes and convictions will be obtained.

Abusing the right to retrial

But according to Jean de Dieu Mucyo, the former CNLG secretary-general, while everyone has a right to be retried as provided for by the law, some people are abusing the right by applying for a retrial without substantive reasons.

“Some claim that they didn’t kill the person yet he was part of the group of killers which hunted down the person who was killed, which justifies the conviction,” Mr Mucyo said.

“Others come asking for other people’s case files, which we find unnecessarily bothersome and contravening the privacy of others, especially for the sensitive cases such as rape.”