THE CLOSURE OF THE GACACA COURTS ONE CHAPTER ENDS BUT WHAT NEXT
While still in country after a grand Kwita Izina week of conservation celebrations the opportunity arose to sit in on the International Conference on Gacaca Courts, the answer of the new Rwanda to the need to bring people to justice and justice to the people, following the gruesome 100 days genocide, during which according to the latest figures a million people were slaughtered by frenzied mobs, militias and the military.
Earlier during my visit I had already come close up and personal with the genocide and the surviving victims, but also some perpetrators now living side by side in a model village.
A visit to the Belgium memorial site, where a troop of their soldiers were killed and where tribute is also paid to others of their citizens, slaughtered alongside their families because they had married into a Tutsi family.
The countrys main national Genocide Memorial in Kigali was again on my visitng programme, as it is on every occasion I am in Rwandas capital, to remind myself that NEVER AGAIN has to mean just that NEVER AGAIN. The world stood by in 1994 and wrung its combined hands but did not come to the aid of those who faced mass murder, and similarities with what is going on in the border regions between Khartoum Sudan and South Sudan, including ICC wanted alleged war criminal Bashir calling the Southerners insects which must be extinguished reminds one only too much of 1994 when the masterminds of the genocide in Rwanda called their supports to finish off the cockroaches.
The conference held today in Rwandas parliament is discussing in details the achievements, and shortcomings, of the community based Gacaca Court system, which over the past 10 years, the mandate runs out tomorrow when President Paul Kagame will officially close the system down, has dealt with over 1.2 million cases.
Even the most ardent advocates of conventional court systems must admit that not one legal system in the world would be able to deal with that many cases in a conventional way and true enough, research now availed to this correspondent shows that it would have taken an already overloaded Rwandan legal system over 300 years to try all these cases. Under the Gacaca Court system some 120.000 judges were appointed and notably NO professional lawyers were involved in these cases, as perpetrator had to face their accusers and victims close up and personal, had to admit their guilt, confess their crimes, show where they dumped the bodies to give closure to the families and then ask for forgiveness. They were still jailed when found guilty, but often released back to their communities after serving some time and in lieu had to carry out community work in places where in 1994 they murdered, no slaughtered thousands.
The Rwandan leadership must have felt the age old saying Justice delayed is Justice denied as eventually over 400.000 detainees filled the prisons while on either remand or serving their sentences and it was clear, that no Phoenix would rise from the ashes unless a way would be found to deal swiftly and comprehensively with the extremely large number of genocide cases and seek to re-integrate many of the erstwhile killers into society again, if progress and economic development had to be achieved.
Speed was essential and while fairness was inscribed in the charter of the Gacaca Courts, much of the peacocky nature of normal courts was seen as a hindrance so wigs and robes and pretentious language was ditched in favour of having communities see and experience justice being administered in a way they could understand, and fast for that matter. And while from what I saw and was presented with today and over the past days, when inspite of celebrating conservation successes the past was ever present in my searching questions, the Gacaca Court system was not perfect, in fact at times flawed, it nevertheless served a purpose and achieved results, on which Rwandan society can now build and move forward from. Reconciliation and Forgiveness rank high in building the new nation and no conventional court system supporter could even distantly claim that the judiciary in Rwanda, in fact anywhere in the world, could have coped with the sheer numbers of cases.
There was no yes your honour no your honour three bags full but plain language the people in villages could understand, participate in proceedings and see justice delivered through guilty verdicts but also acquittals. Justice without lawyers, perhaps the world should try more of that at times and in any case, the judiciary in Rwanda is now dealing with the hard core of masterminds of the genocide, or at least those caught and extradited to Rwanda, often after a decade or more of legal struggles, yes, courtesy of lawyers no less.
Rwandas situation post 1994 was unique and nearly unprecedented and few examples existed of how the problem of criminal prosecution could be addressed, until this home grown solution was proposed, developed and then in 2002 implemented with the first trial then taking place in 2003.
But with Gacaca Courts coming to the end of their lifespan, the question is being asked what next? One chapter closes and one expects some follow on. Could the country sustain a dual judiciary system in the longer run, to have justice dispensed with at local level at a similar court system or will the substantially strengthened normal judiciary, now with much improved capacity since 10 or 15 years ago, have to take care of all criminal matters henceforth? A question worth asking and worth monitoring progress made in Rwanda to see if at all some level of follow on for keeps can be found in months to come.
For now though, Rwanda is at another cross road, moving through the intersection with a well mapped out strategy to rebuild the nation and turn it into an African showcase country where things work, where discipline manifests itself in particular in traffic and where tourists from around the world flock to, perhaps soon reaching the one million visitor mark per annum, showcasing the risen Phoenix and demonstrating to the world that the Rwandan way did work. Not perfectly but to a very high percentage degree which is good enough, considering the challenges the country faced in terms of prosecutions and jail capacity only 10 years ago.
The new Rwanda on the move last Saturday when conservation took the centre stage with Kwita Izina and the naming of another 19 babies and a semi adult see the respective articles filed earlier today and now with the formal conclusion of the Gacaca Courts. Perfect? For sure not, but as good as it gets here in Africa, and that is the truth. Watch this space.
Archive for June 17th, 2012
Rwanda celebrates 10 years of Gacaca Courts and bringing fast tracked justice to the genocide victims
THE CLOSURE OF THE GACACA COURTS ONE CHAPTER ENDS BUT WHAT NEXT
Following a thorough review of safety procedures and emergency response mechanisms has KWS over the weekend re-opened the gorges, where some 2 months ago disaster struck when a flash flood carried away seven Kenyan youths on a team building exercise. KWS CEO Dr. Julius Kipngetich made the announcement at the park while attending the annual wheel barrow race, which brings communities together to raise funds for the park and projects nearby. Dr. Julius was quoted by a source attending the event that the danger zones in the gorges were now clearly marked, urging utmost caution when traversing such stretches during periods of rain, even distant rain, so that escape routes can be identified to swiftly evacuate from the flood prone gorges should the need arise.
He also reportedly responded again to demands by local politicians making hay out of the tragedy, that the park name would not be changed as it was part of making it attractive to foreign and local visitors keen to find out what hidden secrets the park may hold.
This years event raised 18 million Kenya Shillings which will largely go towards the establishment of an education centre for young girls, to give them an equal chance to succeed in life. Dr. Julius added that KWS was working hand in hand with the Kenya Tourist Board and other partners to make the annual wheel barrow race at Hells Gate an international event and part of Kenyas calendar of festivals and happenings, so as to attract more international visitors to the park. Hells Gate National Park is also renowned as a venue for filming commercials or scenes then used in international movie releases, evidence that indeed it is a place to be and a place to visit. Watch this space and for more information visit www.kws.go.ke
(The author, seen here naming Umutungo or Fortune at Kwita Izina in Kinigi / Musanze on June 16th. Picture courtesy of Telesphore Ngoga)
The eighth annual gorilla naming festival, now globally known as Kwita Izina has over the years named 141 young born baby gorillas, with each and every one of them given a name, all of them different and of a deeper meaning. The choices of names are proposed by the rangers on the ground who are with these endangered animals all the time and their selection reflects the circumstances of the birth or the location they were born at, but the namer makes the final decision, choosing from two or three selected for the particular new born.
Rwanda is the only country in the gorilla triangle of the Virunga mountains, which it shares with Uganda and Congo DR, to dedicate an entirel festival to the primates, and while gorillas in Uganda too are named by the wardens and the UWA staff, only in Rwanda has the naming been turned into an annual celebration of conservation. 141 births in 8 years sounds both much and little, the latter clearly an indicator that conservation is a hard, long term business and had it not been for Rwandas extraordinary efforts to protect the species, in conjunction with the communities living around the boundaries of the national park, a similar number could have been recorded as a loss to poaching or illegal trading. The centerpiece of Rwandas success is found in bringing the community on board, and Musanze has been recorded as the third most successful part of the country to combat and eradicate poverty, attributed to the inflow of tourist visitors, the jobs and investments they helped to create and the money they leave directly in the local economy, besides paying a tracking fee of now US Dollars 750 to the Rwanda Development Board. Local guest houses and hotels thrive and over the Kwita Izina week are fully booked as the regional and international conservation fraternity flocks to Musanze to pay tribute to Rwandas achievements.
From initially being a one day event, Kwita Izina has grown into a weeklong festival of activities, regularly featuring conservation focused conferences and workshops, exhibitions like this year when sustainable and green technologies were showcased at the Kigali Serena Conference Centre, a cycling race from Kigali to the gorilla mountains and notably, year after year, the handing over of additional community projects.. These are covering the provision of clean drinking as well as irrigation water, health centres, educational facilities and community centres where the locals can meet. 5 percent of the revenue of the permits are given back to the communities, besides a further 5 percent now being contributed to a compensation fund scheme from which anyone suffering proven wildlife damages can receive a payout.
The government of Rwanda has in recent years been regularly represented by the Prime Minister, paying tribute to the work done day by day in and around the park by wardens and park staff, the researchers, NGOs led by the Diane Fossey International Gorilla Fund and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme but also receiving the tribute of the international community for Rwandas ongoing commitment to protecting the species. This year it was the President of the International Council for Tourism Partners, Prof. Geoffrey Lipman, who stopped in Rwanda enroute from Beijing and Bangkok to Rio de Janeiro where he is attending the Rio20+ Summit, who applauded The Land of a Thousand Hills for their green vision of sustainable tourism developments. Rwanda is a founder member of the ICTP, which launched last year at the WTM in London and will hold its first annual meeting in the Seychelles in 3 weeks time. Prof. Lipman was one of the 20 namers, as was the Founder Chairman of the East African Tourism Platform, which was launched in Rwanda as part of the Kwita Izina week, Richard Rugimbana from the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania.
But this year was special in many ways. Normally reporting from the festival site in Kinigi this correspondent was chosen by RDB as a Namer in recognition of consistent positive reporting about Rwanda tourism and conservation and his contributions to promoting the country abroad through regular feature articles published by eTN and many other media organizations, in his capacity as the eTurboNews correspondent for Eastern African and Indian Ocean islands region. It was an honour for eTN to be such recognized as well as for yours truly and the occasions was made double special when the first ever opportunity arose to name a semi adult female. She some time ago migrated from the wild, seemingly un-habituated and not recognized by the unique facial features each gorilla has, as a member of any known group in the three countries and is now according to the rangers fully settled and integrated in the Sabinyo Group. It was instantly clear to this correspondent that this gorilla girl had enough sense to recognize, that by coming to Rwanda and becoming part of a habituated group, it sought out the protection of a strong and sustained conservation system where she can live out a full life. As many as 8 tourists a day, or up to 2.920 a year, come to see the gorillas of each of the 8 habituated groups and she too can now be seen on a daily basis, earning her keep by simply being there and letting curious humans see their close relatives in the wild with whom we share 98 percent of DNA.
(Dressed in full regalia of a Namer outside a traditional Rwandan homestead, where the men and women chosen to name are briefed and outfitted before making a grand entrance. Picture courtesy of Telesphore Ngoga)
The chosen name for her was Umutungo or in English Fortune because it was a good fortune which brought her into the safety net of RDBs Tourism and Conservation Department, from now on according her protection and care against permitting to be visited by tourists from around the world. And in the best African tradition, yours truly claimed Umutungo as his daughter and laid his claim to dowry, also expecting fully to name her first born, as and when that happy event will take place.
The 2012 event once again filled the showground to the brim and more than ever before where the words from the Prime Minister greeted with loud and enthusiastic applause, when he listed the achievements made in this part of the country, attributed to a large extend to tourism activities. It was evident that the local communities, which streamed in their many thousands to the festival ground, were fully behind the event, no wonder considering the benefits tourism has brought and continues to bring to the Musanze and its environs.
In closing I wish Umutungo and the other 19 newly named gorilla babies a long and happy life in the forests of the 5 towering volcanoes, where they can live and give in safe surroundings.
This trip was made possible by the generosity of RwandAir, the national airline of Rwanda, of Serena Hotels and the Rwanda Development Boards Tourism and Conservation Department.