Apr 13, 2005

Batwa: European Union Gives Support to Gacaca Tribunals

Eleven years after the genocide Rwanda faces many challenges, the most prominent of which is bringing to justice those who are suspected of playing a part in the 1994 genocide
Untitled Document Eleven years after the genocide Rwanda faces many challenges, the most prominent of which is bringing to justice those who are suspected of playing a part in the 1994 genocide.

In order to deal expeditiously with the large number of suspects, the semi-traditional Gacaca courts have been instituted and started functioning barely one month ago.

Among those following closely the evolution of Rwanda's new judicial direction is David MacRae, the European Union's representative in Kigali.

The EU is one of the biggest donors to Rwanda and is also increasingly becoming the strongest diplomatic lobby in Kigali.

On the eve of the April 7th genocide anniversary, MacRae spoke to Hirondelle News Agency in an exclusive interview. He talked about Gacaca, human rights, and freedom of the press. Below are excerpts from the interview:

Question: Rwanda has chosen Gacaca courts as the main solution for justice and reconciliation after the genocide. Do you think this is the right choice?

Answer: In the circumstances, it seems a very constructive way in dealing with a situation without a precedent. Clearly, were conventional legal processes to be followed, it is difficult to imagine how much would have been achieved. From experience elsewhere--precious little.

Question: It's about one month since the first trials began. Do you think it is working?

Answer: The situation is progressing reasonably well. It is still early to judge how successful it will be. I say this because it has no precedent. This is not an easy process, there is no blue print. What happened in Rwanda has no precedent.

Question: Since no lawyers are allowed in Gacaca, observers are constantly checking whether the courts respect the rights of the accused. Are you satisfied with the safeguards provided by Gacaca?

Answer: My understanding of the situation is that Gacaca process initially involves trying to agree collectively, in a local community, about what happened and trying to decide the gravity of the crimes. The most serious are sent to regular courts. Those who agree to the crimes ask for forgiveness from victims. There is reconciliation. If this is the way it is supposed to work, I say yes. That doesn't preclude places where things won't work that well.

Question: There are reports that while the donor community has largely had positive opinions on Gacaca, little financial support has been put into the process .Is that true?

Answer: We in the EU are providing assistance to the Gacaca process. We want to support the government in its endeavour for reconciliation. We have made available 7m to support the rule of law. This includes Gacaca. We appreciate that this is a very important area for us to help.

Question: If you had your way, there something that you would change on Gacaca as it is today?

Answer: I'm relatively new to this country. I wouldn't assume much knowledge to teach Rwandans about Gacaca. I would be supportive.

Question: What about Human Rights in Rwanda? Would you say there is progress, stagnation or decline?

Answer: When one considers the magnitude of the genocide and one relates it to other incidences of genocide around the world and the time it took, Rwanda is exceptional. It wouldn't be reasonable to expect this country to overcome everything in such a time.

It is over 60 years since the holocaust but we still talk about it. Today we have people in Europe who are still experiencing effects of the holocaust. We have to say this in relation to these things. Are we moving in the right direction? I would say yes, because the government is addressing this issue.

Enormous strides have been made in terms of reforms. But it is going to take a very long time indeed for the country to get over the effects of the genocide. And this is to be expected judging by other examples around the world.

Question: But the EU was very critical about the 'genocide ideology' report released by a parliamentary commission last year and endorsed by the government. The EU said that the report had an "intimidating effect" on civil society and urged the government to "open up political space and to allow expression of different political views and perspectives. Has this changed?

Answer: We have requested to have a dialogue with government. This has started. It is within the frame work of the Cotonou Agreement (between the ACP and EU countries). It also includes the situation regarding events in east Congo. Another thing we would like to discuss is the concept of 'divisionism' in relation to civil society and the conduct of political activity in the country. The government is eager to achieve a unified society. In order to achieve this, they have to deal with an event that was highly divisive. One has to approach this issue with enough sensitivity.

Question: Human rights organizations have accused Rwandan authorities of excesses in implementing laws on discrimination and sectarianism. They say that the government is exploiting the situation to suppress political dissent. Do you agree with that?

Answer: We haven't yet had a dialogue on this. I wouldn't like to speak out of turn. But one area where the issue would come into conflict is the issue of Batwa [an Rwandan ethnic group]. There is an organization called CAURWA that was set up to promote interests of these people. The government is asking them to exclude ethnic references in their name and statute. At first sight, one would feel that a policy is being applied in a way that those who devised it didn't intend it. In this case, it may do that. But my understanding is that this issue is being discussed.

Question: What is your assessment of the state of freedom of expression in Rwanda today?

Answer: The situation today is better than what it was a few years ago. The newspapers are improving. There are more critical and interesting stories. Also, we are not living in a closed society here. There is BBC, DW and other radios broadcasting to Rwanda in Kinyarwanda. People have a choice to listen to those too.

Source: allAfrica.com