Kigali, 18 June 2012
President Kagame has stated that the practice of discussion and consensus that took shape during the decade long Gacaca proceedings will continue to be at the centre of Rwanda’s governance and development agenda. Speaking during the ceremony to officially close the Gacaca Courts that took place at Parliament, President Kagame said that the Gacaca legacy will be last for many generations.
“Today’s event is not simply to mark the closure of the courts, but also recognition of the enduring value of the process. It is a celebration of the restoration of unity and trust among Rwandans, and reaffirmation of our ability to find our own answers to seemingly intractable questions. Although we are closing Gacaca courts today, we are aware that they have not resolved all problems. Many issues remain outstanding and will be dealt with through the formal courts.”
President Kagame stated that the Gacaca process and experience has been an important phase in the history of Rwanda:“It has been a period when we sought to reunite our nation, inspire confidence in the administration of justice and hold each other accountable for our actions. Gacaca, granted, had its imperfections. It received criticism both from within and outside Rwanda, yet those criticizing offered no viable alternatives that could deliver the results we needed. Despite all this, Gacaca has served us very well, and even exceeded our expectations”.
President Kagame said that the Gacaca process challenged every Rwandan into introspection and soul-searching that resulted in truth-telling, national healing, reconciliation and justice and that it worked because Rwandans largely believed in it.
“We are still convinced that there could have been no better alternative, and welcome the continued discussion in legal, judicial and academic circles to adapt and improve it”.
President Kagame said that faced with the challenge on how to provide redress for victims, hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, and restore harmony among Rwandans and considering the magnitude of the problem, including the numbers involved and limited resources the people of Rwanda were convinced that conventional justice could not have delivered the results that they sought.
“We had three choices: first was the more dangerous path of revenge, or secondly, grant general amnesty, both of which would have led to further anarchy and destruction. But we chose the third and more difficult course of dealing with the matter decisively and restoring the unity and integrity of the nation. We turned to Gacaca, our traditional conflict resolution mechanism, and adapted it to respond to the challenges facing us. Today, Rwandans have rediscovered their collective self-worth and confidence to help us find solutions to other challenges we have”.
President Kagame stated that the effectiveness of Gacaca Courts could better be understood if measured against the performance of other courts, citing the ICTR which in comparison has so far tried only 60 cases at a very huge cost while at a considerably low cost, Gacaca Courts tried close to two million cases and fostered unity and reconciliation at the same time.
“For us, the lessons of Gacaca go beyond justice and embrace other facets of national life. Gacaca has empowered Rwandans in ways few could have envisaged. It has illustrated the liberating value of truth. When truth came out in court, from both the perpetrators and survivors of genocide, from witnesses and the community – freely, not at the prompting or tutoring of paid lawyers – it set everyone free and prepared the ground for the restoration of social harmony”.
Former Dutch Minister of Development and Cooperation, Prof. Jan Pronk, who played a big role by working with Rwanda as the nation tried to find alternative means of trying the many genocide cases stated that Gacaca has been the best possible option and honest way to achieve justice and reconciliation:
“Gacaca may not be perfect, and there may still be questions, but with no doubts it was the best option and offered an honest mechanism to achieve justice. Rwanda’s situation was unique and needed new approach. Leaders needed trust and confidence. Gacaca however could not have succeeded without a strong leadership and people centered governance.”
The Executive Secretary National Service of Gacaca Courts Domitilla Mukantaganzwa said the journey was a rough one but that with cooperation and contribution of all Rwandans, Gacaca Courts were able to achieve their objectives.
Before handing over the official Gacaca Courts report to President Kagame, the Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama said that without Gacaca courts; it would have taken the country over 300 years to try Genocide cases under classical court system