Never before in the history of international justice has a mass crime been judged so much or in so many places as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsis. Rwanda set up more than 12,000 courts to ensure that no one would escape their share of responsibility. More than one million individuals were tried there. An international tribunal set up by the United Nations has helped prosecute ringleaders, while Western countries have also conducted some symbolic trials. And the task is not complete.
When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power in Kigali in July 1994, the judicial system no longer existed. Most of the country’s magistrates had been killed or fled into exile. There were no longer any gendarmes, judicial police or judicial structures. A few weeks later, the communal lock-ups, prisons and other improvised detention centres were overflowing with tens of thousands of people accused of participating in the genocide that left between 600,000 and 1 million people dead between April and July 1994, according to different estimates.
Two years later, Rwanda published the “Organic Law of 30 August 1996 on the organization of prosecution of offences constituting the crime of genocide or crimes against humanity committed between 1 October 1990 and 31 December 1994”. It thus gave itself a broader temporal jurisdiction than that of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) set up after the genocide, which covered only the period from January 1 to December 31, 1994.
On the history of the genocide, there are two different opinions about when it started. While the international community considers that the genocide started on April 6, 1994, after the assassination of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, the new Rwandan authorities claimed that anti-Tutsi pogroms, which had been taking place since the outbreak of the RPF rebellion in October 1990, were part of a genocidal plan that had been in place for many years.
Rwanda, ICTR, Belgium, France and Switzerland: a few emblematic trials on the genocide in Rwanda.
Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defence
The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 did not have a Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. However, one man has been described as the “brain” of the genocide: Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, who was, in April 1994, the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Defence. A rarely mentioned moment in his trial was when, under questions from his own lawyer, Bagosora acknowledged that, “at one point, Tutsis were killed because they were Tutsis” – a true acknowledgement of the genocide. Bagosora estimated that this “moment” started on April 12.
There was another aspect of his trial that did not get enough attention. The trial judgment, rendered on December 18, 2008, is undoubtedly the most accurate, complete and disturbing document in which the ICTR judges examined and analysed the events preceding the genocide and those that accompanied its outbreak. Bagosora was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, but only relating to three days – from 6 to 9 April – and only as a superior. For the “brains” behind a genocide, that is not a lot. Three years later, the Appeals Chamber, ignoring all the nuances of the first judgment, reduced the sentence to 35 years’ imprisonment. But the colonel’s lawyer was able to say that the judicial decisions of the international tribunal de facto signalled a “collapse of the myth” of the brains behind the genocide, making the story of the extermination of Tutsis in Rwanda even more singular. Read more
Jean-Paul Akayesu, The first man convicted of genocide by an international court
This was the story of a man whose destiny was to be painted much larger than he was in real life. Jean-Paul Akayesu, a former teacher and mayor of the municipality of Taba in central Rwanda, was the first man to be convicted of genocide by an international court on September 2, 1998.
According to all the evidence heard during his trial, Akayesu initially resisted attacks by genocidal militiamen for two weeks with the help of only eight communal police officers. Then, on return from a major government meeting with local elected officials on April 18, everything changed. Akayesu allied himself with the local leader of the Interahamwe militiamen and read out lists of people condemned to death if they were found. He also ignored or encouraged sexual violence committed even within the municipal office. For the prosecutor, Akayesu’s story was one of “betrayal”.
Today, the Akayesu judgment is taught everywhere in international criminal law and is the symbol of the recognition of rape as a weapon of war and a weapon of genocide. Read more
Jean Kambanda, He pleaded guilty to genocide, then withdrew his confession
On April 8, 1994, a military escort came to pick up Jean Kambanda at his home in Kigali, the Rwandan capital already prey to killers. The next day, he was sworn in as Prime Minister of an interim government that would preside over the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda and the murder of the Hutus opposed to the massacres and “Hutu Power”. Arrested in Kenya in 1997, he pleaded guilty to genocide in an unforgettable hearing the following year, which was presented as a resounding success for the ICTR.
But quickly, this “confession” proved to be very ambiguous and controversial. A few years later, the prosecutor’s office admitted that it had concealed from the judges the true nature of Kambanda’s confession because it would have risked calling into question his sincerity. Kambanda, announced as a key witness against his former associates, later tried to withdraw (in vain) his confession and never appeared as the great prosecution witness he was expected to be. He hoped to avoid life imprisonment but did not escape it, and so appeared more as the loser in a game of judicial bargaining than a success for international justice.
Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, The only woman to have been convicted of genocide by an international court
Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former Minister for Family Affairs and the Advancement of Women in the Rwandan Government between April and July 1994, is the only woman to have been convicted by the ICTR and the only woman to have been convicted of genocide by an international court. This alone would give her a special place in the history of international criminal justice. But her trial also holds a number of unenviable records.
Judged with five other Rwandans, including her own son, this case was the longest contemporary trial for international crimes, lasting fifteen years between the opening of the trial and the judgment on appeal. Worse still, two of her co-accused spent more than 20 years in jail before receiving their final sentence. The “Butare case”, so called after the southern region of Rwanda where the accused operated, remains a symbol of the ICTR’s dysfunctions.
Froduald Karamira, A symbol of “Hutu Power” ideology
When Froduald Karamira was in the transit room at Addis Ababa Airport in Ethiopia that day in June 1996, about to be boarded on a flight to Kigali, he knew he had to try everything. He escaped. Quickly caught by the Ethiopian police, he was the subject for two weeks of a struggle between the young ICTR and the Rwandan authorities. Finally, the UN tribunal, anxious to obtain the cooperation of the Rwandan government, gave in. Karamira landed in his native land to be tried.
His name is a symbol of “Hutu Power” ideology since he is said to be the author of this term, which united the supporters of Hutu extremism. This politician, former vice-president of the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR), a democratic opposition party that split into supporters and opponents of Hutu Power, was the Rwandan government’s greatest catch among the figures of the genocide. In January 1997, he was one of the first to be tried by the Rwandan courts. On February 14, he was sentenced to death. And on April 24, 1998, he was one of about 20 genocide convicts to be executed. These were the only judicial executions in Rwanda after the genocide.
Valérie Bémériki, A voice still anchored in people’s memories
It has often been said that at the roadblocks where they massacred Tutsis or anyone suspected to be one, the militiamen and the civilians who helped them had a machete in one hand and a radio in the other. The role of Radio des Mille Collines (RTLM), as of July 1993 when it was created, in the massacres that started on 6 April, remains as a major part of the crime. There are undoubtedly two voices on that radio that are still anchored in people’s memories: Kantano Habimana with his sarcasm and black humour; and Valérie Bémériki, whose tone was more excited. Kantano died soon after in the refugee camps of Congo (ex-Zaire). Bémériki was arrested in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in June 1999 and brought back to Rwanda. With her pink prisoner’s outfit and shaven head, she was often interviewed by journalists and testified for the prosecution in proceedings at the ICTR and in France. In December 2009, she was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Gacaca court in Kigali for genocide planning, incitement to genocide and complicity in murder. The only other host of the infamous radio station to have been sentenced is the Italo-Belgian Georges Ruggiu, sentenced by the ICTR to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty.
Mgr Augustin Misago, The highest official of the Catholic Church tried in Rwanda
The very powerful Catholic Church in Rwanda is accused of bearing a heavy responsibility for the 1994 genocide. Several churches across the country became places of massacre, some of them at the instigation of religious leaders. The highest official of the Catholic Church tried in Rwanda in connection with the genocide is former bishop of Gikongoro (southwestern Rwanda), Augustin Misago.
He was arrested near Kigali on the morning of April 14, 1999, a week after being publicly implicated by President Pasteur Bizimungu. Bishop Misago is accused of failing to do anything to protect the faithful, including some Tutsi priests killed during the genocide. In June 2000, he was acquitted by the specialized chamber of the Kigali Court of First Instance. After a brief stay in Rome, he resumed his ecclesiastical duties. On the morning of March 12, 2012, at age 69, the bishop was found dead in his office.
Léon Mugesera, A speech which calls to commit genocide against the Tutsis
A brilliant linguist, Léon Mugesera is best known for his speech on November 22, 1992 in Kabaya, northern Rwanda. Mugesera was then an important member of the presidential party, the MRND, of which he was vice-president for the prefecture of Gisenyi, in northeastern Rwanda. He also taught at the National University of Rwanda. On that day, he provoked a wave of disapproval within the Rwandan political class for suggesting that Tutsis should be sent back “home” via the Nyabarongo River. Forced into exile, Mugesera ended up in Canada. But his speech continued to haunt him. After years of legal proceedings, he was finally extradited to Rwanda, where he was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment on April 15, 2016. The judges concluded that the Kabaya speech was a call to commit genocide against the Tutsis, something that would take place two years later.
Niyonteze was released on December 29, 2005, after serving nine years in prison. Read more
Sisters Gertrude and Marie-Kizito, Guilty of having handed over to the killers between 6,000 and 7,000 Tutsis
Sisters Consolata Mukangango (Sister Gertrude) and Julienne Mukabutera (Sister Marie- Kizito) were tried with two men in the first trial held in Belgium on the Rwandan genocide. At the time of the events, Sister Gertrude was head of the monastery of Sovu, in Butare (south), where Sister Marie-Kizito also lived. On June 8, 2001, the Benedictine women were found guilty of having handed over to the killers between 6,000 and 7,000 Tutsis who had sought refuge at the monastery between April and May 1994. Sentenced to 15 and 12 years’ imprisonment respectively, they are now free.
Major Bernard Ntuyahaga, Involved in the murder of ten Belgian peacekeepers
In the aftermath of the genocide, everyone wanted to get their hands on Major Bernard Ntuyahaga. The Belgian justice system wanted him because it accused him of having played an important role in the murder of ten Belgian peacekeepers in Kigali on April 7, 1994. The Rwandan justice system wanted him too. Fearing both, the officer left his refuge in Zambia and surrendered himself to the ICTR in Arusha in June 1998. The international tribunal took some time to decide whether or not it wanted to try him. An indictment was issued and then withdrawn. Ntuyahaga did not stay free for long. He was the subject of a bitter legal battle between Belgium and Rwanda, which turned to Belgium’s advantage in 2004. On July 5, 2007, he was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for his involvement in the murder of the Belgian soldiers. When he was released from prison in May 2018, he was placed in a detention centre in Brussels. Belgium is not finished with him. In December, he was deported to his country of origin, Rwanda, where it is still unclear whether justice will catch up with him again. Read more
Ephrem Nkezabera, Treasurer of the Interahamwe
The Interahamwe, Hutu militiamen from the youth of the former MRND presidential party, spearheaded the genocide. Yet its eleven national leaders have had unexpected judicial fates. Several of them were among the main informants of the ICTR Prosecutor’s Office, hoping to escape justice in return for their help in arresting and convicting senior political and military officials. One of them is Ephrem Nkezabera.
In 1994, he was one of the directors of the Commercial Bank of Rwanda. He is also one of the treasurers of the Interahamwe. The contract he concluded with the ICTR seems to have served him for several years. But ultimately, the prosecutor needed his testimony in court. Yet how could he be presented as a credible witness, without also judging him for his own crimes? The trap was closing on Nkezabera. And it was Belgium that was dedicated to trying him. On December 1, 2009, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for war crimes. During the investigation, he acknowledged that he had financed and armed the Interahamwe. Other former comrades accused him of being directly involved in the killings. A little over a year after his trial, he died of liver cancer, just as he was due to be retried.
Pascal Simbikangwa, From the feared Central Intelligence Service
The image of this Rwandan army captain in his wheelchair has always been associated with the most serious allegations against the Rwandan authorities in the early 1990s, in the years marking the rise of violence, assassinations and pogroms that preceded the genocide. Pascal Simbikangwa was then working at the feared Central Intelligence Service. He was considered close to President Juvenal Habyarimana and the presidential circle. In March 2014, he was the first Rwandan to be tried for genocide in France, a country accused of having supported the Hutu government, including during the genocide, and strongly criticized for its reluctance to try certain genocide suspects who found refuge on its territory.
Simbikangwa was finally sentenced to 25 years in prison. According to the Assize Court ruling, he gave orders and distributed weapons to militiamen at roadblocks in Kigali as part of a “concerted plan” to eliminate the Tutsi ethnic group. Read more
Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, A symbol of the French justice system’s lack of will
Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka was at the heart of one of the great tragedies that took place in the capital Kigali during the genocide, and then became a symbol, in the eyes of victims’ associations, of the French justice system’s lack of will on Rwandan genocide cases.
Between April 6 and July 4, 1994, when rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front took Kigali, Father Munyeshaka was vicar of the parish of the Holy Family in Kigali. Everyone knows this red brick church right in the centre of the city. Hundreds of Tutsis took refuge there, hoping to find protection. A significant number of them did not escape the killers, who surrounded the church and regularly came to take victims. What role did the priest really play during this period? Was he an accomplice of the killers? As early as 1994, many witnesses accused this religious leader of carrying a gun at his belt. He became a refugee in France and was the first Rwandan to be subject of a judicial complaint there for his alleged role in the genocide. And so began an endless judicial soap opera. On June 21, 2018, after 23 years of proceedings, the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed the case dismissal pronounced in 2015, for lack of sufficient evidence. While acknowledging the priest’s “troubling” role in 1994, the investigating judges considered that his passivity in the face of the massacres was not enough to send him to trial. Read more
Fulgence Niyonteze, The first Rwandan convicted in Europe for his role in the genocide
Former mayor of Mushubati in western Rwanda, Fulgence Niyonteze was the first Rwandan convicted in Europe for his role in the genocide. At the outbreak of the genocide, Niyonteze was travelling in Europe. In May 1994, he returned to his commune where he ordered, according to the prosecution, the killing of Tutsis who were still alive. After fleeing to Switzerland in October 1994, Niyonteze was arrested on August 28, 1996. On April 30, 1999, he was convicted for murder and war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Swiss military court. In May 2000, the sentence was reduced to 14 years’ imprisonment on ap
A 1996 Act established a specialized chamber within each court of first instance to deal with genocide cases. It introduced the procedure of confession and guilty plea in exchange for reduced sentences, and put genocide suspects into categories according to the seriousness of their alleged crimes.
The first trials started at the end of 1996. Among the difficulties pointed out by observers was a lack of defence lawyers in many of the cases. “Implementation of the right to defend oneself and to be assisted by a lawyer of one’s choice, free of charge if necessary, has not always been easy in the context of genocide litigation,” said Lawyers without Borders (ASF) in its report “The crime of genocide and crimes against humanity before Rwanda’s ordinary courts”. “At the beginning of the trials, some of the courts were reluctant to grant postponements to suspects who appeared alone at the first hearing and expressed a desire to be assisted by a lawyer. The judges frequently described such requests as delaying tactics.”
At the time, even Rwandan lawyers were reluctant to defend genocide suspects. Courageously, ASF made lawyers available to some of the accused and civil parties, but demand far exceeded the number. In some cases the judges, who were not necessarily trained jurists, reversed the burden of evidence, requiring that the accused prove his or her innocence, ASF also notes.
Eight individuals indicted by the ICTR are still officially at large. In case of arrest, five of them would be sent for trial in Rwanda.
The eight men that escaped the ICTR
“Finding and arresting the fugitives is a priority for my office. Cooperation with States remains key for us to implement this residual function as quickly as possible,” Serge Brammertz, prosecutor of the MICT mechanism that performs the “residual” functions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), told the UN Security Council last December. Twenty-five years after the genocide in Rwanda, eight people indicted by the ICTR are still on the run.
Félicien Kabuga, Alleged financier of the genocide
Former ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow often said that the man who allegedly financed the genocide was hiding in Kenya, six hours by road from the seat of the ICTR in Arusha, northern Tanzania. But other sources think the billionaire, born in 1935, is already dead. Accused of having ordered the machetes used to kill Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, Kabuga was a travelling trader who became, at the time, the richest man in his country. A member of the presidential party, he was also chairman of the board of Radio Télévision libre des mille collines (RTLM), the infamous radio station that called for the killing of Tutsis. During the genocide, he was appointed Chairman of the Interim Committee of the National Defence Fund. In June 1994, on the eve of the regular army’s defeat at the hands of the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, the billionaire took refuge in Switzerland. After being ordered to leave the country, he landed in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and then settled in Kenya. With the support of a powerful network at the highest levels of power in Kenya, he escaped several operations mounted by the ICTR to catch him. Read more
Augustin Bizimana, Former Defence Minister
A member of the presidential party in 1994, he is accused of having participated in the preparation of the genocide at the highest level. According to sources at the MICT, this trained agricultural engineer is hiding in eastern DRC. But sources close to the former regime claim that he died many years ago in Congo-Brazzaville. This was denied in 2017 by a former ICTR official, speaking anonymously at a conference in Arusha. “That’s not true, it’s just invented for diversion. We had his supposed grave opened, and he was not there.” Read more
Protais Mpiranya, Head of the presidential guard
Major Protais Mpiranya commanded the guard of President Habyarimana. In 1994, this elite military unit was the most active in the massacres. Mpiranya, who was long a commanding member of the DRC-based Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), is reported by the MICT to be protected by senior Zimbabwean officials, while other sources say he is dead. In 2010, a book was published in his name in Zimbabwe and claimed that Mpiranya died on October 5, 2006. If they are ever arrested Kabuga, Bizimana and Mpiranya are to be tried by the MICT. The five other fugitives are to be handed over to Rwanda for trial.
Phénéas Munyarugarama, The shadow over Nyamata
In 1994, this lieutenant-colonel commanded the large military camp of Gako, east of Kigali, near the border with Burundi. According to the ICTR, soldiers from Camp Gako committed crimes in the region. Phénéas Munyarugarama was also reportedly present at the Nyamata church, where 2,500 to 5,000 civilians were massacred on April 14, 1994 by soldiers from his camp and Hutu militiamen. Read more
Fulgence Kayishema, The shadow over Nyange
Fulgence Kayishema’s name was often associated in numerous testimonies before the ICTR with the massacre of Tutsis who had sought refuge at the Nyange church in western Rwanda. According to the indictment, Kayishema, then police inspector of the commune of Kivumu, allegedly helped to gather Tutsis from the commune at the church of Nyange in order to exterminate them. Witnesses have claimed in other ICTR trials that Kayishema brought the fuel used by militia to set fire to the church.
Aloys Ndimbati, The genocide in Kibuye
At the time of the events, Aloys Ndimbati was mayor of the municipality of Gisovu. He is accused of having played a leading role in the systematic extermination of Tutsis in various parts of Kibuye prefecture. In particular, he reportedly transported gendarmes and militiamen during attacks in the Bisesero hills. In addition, he reportedly gave orders to kill the Tutsis who had taken refuge in these hills and killed some of them personally. The attacks at Bisesero, where there was fierce resistance from Tutsis defending themselves with traditional weapons, lasted several days and killed tens of thousands of people.
Charles Sikubwabo, A mayor involved in genocide
Charles Sikubwabo was appointed head of the municipality of Gishyita in 1993 and held this position until July 1994, when the genocide ended. Before that, he had served in the Rwandan army as Chief Warrant Officer. According to the indictment, in April 1994 he allegedly ordered elements of the national gendarmerie, the communal police and Interahamwe militiamen to attack the Mubuga church. The attack killed thousands of Tutsis who had taken refuge there. Charles Sikubwabo is accused of personally participating in some of the attacks.
Charles Ryandikayo, The restaurant owner
At the time of the events, Charles Ryandikayo was the manager of a small restaurant located in Mubuga, in the commune of Gishyita. His small business gave him a certain social status in this poor commune in western Rwanda. According to the indictment, he allegedly participated in and was present at massacres of Tutsis between April 8 and June 30, 1994, including at the Mubuga church where thousands of Tutsis were massacred between 14 and 16 April 1994.
Many other judgments followed, involving illiterate people and academics, rich and poor, minors and adults, men and women. It is estimated that some 9,000 people were tried by the specialized chambers. But the government was already well aware that it would take several decades, at a staggering cost, to try all detainees (the International Red Cross published a figure of 144,000 genocide suspects in prison, thousands of whom would die before they were tried).
And so in 1998, consultations were opened about drawing on the Rwandan tradition of Gacaca (grass) courts, in which village elders seen as people of integrity held outdoor hearings to settle disputes. The Gacaca courts, a contemporary criminal version of a tradition adapted to circumstances, were about to be born. They would go on to mark international judicial history.
The first law on these community-based courts was published in March 2001. It was modified several times to take account of difficulties in implementation and adapt with pragmatism to evolving needs. The aims were to speed up trials, establish the truth through community participation and reconciliation. Confession was at the heart of the process. As volunteers, those called to serve in the Gacaca were elected by their community on the basis of integrity alone.
The work of these courts began on June 18, 2002, with the launch of the “information gathering” phase on how the genocide had unfolded. This was a kind of public investigation, often under blazing sun, with the participation of witnesses and victims. The trials themselves began in March 2005 in a few pilot jurisdictions, before spreading throughout the country.
Western countries try Rwandan genocide suspects
Where was the genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsis put on trial? How many people were tried? Here is the geography and the maths of an unprecedented criminal justice undertaking.
2 million cases, 1 million people tried
More than 12,000 gacaca courts were set up across the country at all administrative levels, in all communes, on thousands of hills. A gigantic judicial undertaking was taking place, unprecedented in history.
When President Paul Kagame closed the Gacaca in June 2012, these courts had heard, according to an official report, the titanic figure of 1,958,714 cases involving 1,003,227 individuals, the vast majority of whom were found guilty. Guilty of what is not always very clear. According to case statistics (different from individuals, for whom no data are available), 1,320,634 (67.5%) of them related to looting and destruction of property. For the category of murder, torture, abuse and physical violence, a total of 577,528 cases were tried (29%). The acquittal rate, 37%, is much higher than for property theft (4%). Finally, in the first category – that of organizers, authorities and perpetrators of sexual violence – there were 60,552 cases tried (3.5%), with a 12% acquittal rate.
“There were prison sentences ranging from 5 to 10 years, life sentences in 5 to 8% of the verdicts and acquittals for 20 to 30%,” said Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama. President Kagame, speaking in the country’s largest stadium, said that “the gacaca process has reaffirmed Rwandans’ ability to find solutions to their own problems”. “Gacaca justice has been directly administered by the people for the people,” he continued, saying that this system “has served the Rwandan people well and even beyond our expectations. There was no better alternative”.
In a report published in May 2011 as the Gacaca were finishing their trials, US-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that the legacy of this justice on the grass was mixed. It recognized certain achievements, such as the holding of rapid trials with the participation of the people, reduction of the prison population and a better understanding of what had happened in 1994. But HRW said there were “multiple shortcomings and failures with gacaca: basic violations of the right to a fair trial and limitations on accused persons’ ability to effectively defend themselves; flawed decision-making (often caused by judges’ ties to the parties in a case or pre-conceived views of what happened during the genocide) leading to allegations of miscarriages of justice; cases based on what appeared to be trumped-up charges, linked, in some cases, to the government’s wish to silence critics (journalists, human rights activists, and public officials) or to disputes between neighbors and even relatives; judges’ or officials’ intimidation of defense witnesses; corruption of judges to obtain the desired verdict; and other serious procedural irregularities”. According to HRW, some victims of rape during the genocide would also have liked their cases to remain within the ordinary courts, better equipped to protect personal information (a 2008 amendment extended the jurisdiction of the Gacaca to include sexual crimes committed in the context of the genocide).
The NGO also criticized the Rwandan government for not having included crimes committed by some elements of the RPF in the jurisdiction of the Gacaca. Ruling out putting these crimes – which Rwandan prosecutor Gerald Gahima qualified in a 2001 interview as war crimes and crimes against humanity – on the same level as genocide, the authorities decided that only cases linked to the genocide would be tried.
Responding to this criticism, Rwandan minister Karugarama accused HRW of not taking seriously “all the efforts of all Rwandans working together to promote justice and reconciliation”. He urged people to “take account of the enormity of the challenges Rwanda faced after the genocide” and insisted that “the choice to hold Gacaca must be seen in its context. After the genocide, the country was devastated and had very few people with a legal training. Gacaca was a response to that”.
The rest of the world does its part
In parallel with the judicial work done in Rwanda, the international community, anxious to redeem itself after its abandonment of Rwanda in 1994, established an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania. Starting with a renewable four-year term, it lasted twenty-one years, charging 90 individuals, effectively prosecuting 75 and judging 73. Among them was the only non-Rwandan to have been convicted of incitement to genocide, the Italo-Belgian Georges Ruggiu, a former Belgian social security agent who came to Rwanda a few months before the genocide and ended up as a radio host on RTLM, which became known throughout the world for its calls for murder and its sinister contribution to the massacres. Above all, the ICTR made it possible to arrest and try several army leaders, many government and political party leaders, prefects, mayors, media figures, church and militia leaders, as well as a few business people.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), established in November 1994 by the United Nations and based in Arusha, Tanzania, officially closed its doors in December 2015. In twenty years, it indicted 89 Rwandans and 1 Belgian for their role in the genocide. 75 of them were effectively prosecuted, 73 of whom were tried. 9 pleaded guilty and 14 were acquitted.
20 years of ICTR trials, the highlights
Finally, in the past 20 years some ten countries – Switzerland, Belgium, France, Sweden, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, the United States and Canada – have tried 22 people responsible for the genocide under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”. Other trials are pending in Belgium and France.
The end of the Gacaca and the closure of the ICTR do not, however, mark the end of the trials for genocide, an imprescriptible crime. In Rwanda, a law has been passed for the judicial management of the post-gacaca period. According to this text, new genocide prosecutions are conducted in the ordinary courts. These procedures, which are rare and often go unnoticed, involve suspects returning from exile after the closure of Gacaca. In addition, a special chamber has been created to try accused persons returned or extradited by third countries or surrendered by the former ICTR, which concluded its work at the end of 2015.
Deportations and transfers: who gave over genocide suspects for trial, and to which country?
And so the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda is by far the most judged in history, even if it will “never be completely judged”, as jurist and essayist Antoine Garapon noted in a recent preface to the first book by François-Xavier Nsanzuwera, who was the first Rwandan Attorney General after the massacres. It has been a unique and extraordinary judicial enterprise in which Rwanda in particular defied the accepted idea that there cannot be mass justice after a mass crime.
Information and data in this special report come from direct coverage and research from Justiceinfo reporters. As indicated, additional sources include reports from gacaca courts, reports from Human Rights Watch and ASF, ICTR.