Rwanda is still very profoundly touched by the genocide that killed between 800,000 and one million people. Orchestrated by Hutu extremists, the intent of this genocide was the extermination of Tutsi and Hutu opponents. After three months of fighting against the soldiers of the governmental army and the militia, the victory of the FPR put an end to the genocide, saving the Tutsi from complete annihilation. The 4th of July 1994, the FPR troops conquered the capital Kigali, and the 17th of July, a government was formed, thus consecrating the political victory of the FPR.
However, the exodus of more than one million civilian Hutu, first fleeing the numerous brief executions and massacres committed by the soldiers of the FPR in the regions under their control, and secondly fearing the retaliation of the new government, followed this victory. Infiltrated and supervised by soldiers from the former government and militiamen, these civilians took refuge in neighbouring countries, essentially Zaire, the actual Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rwanda had also lost a whole generation of intellectuals, teachers, doctors, engineers and businessmen, while other new categories of vulnerable people had appeared. The displaced people of war, homeless, wandered around the country, the survivors of the genocide desperately seeking news from their relatives, thousands of widowers and orphans of the genocide, numerous disabled and elderly, left to their own fate.
Hope soon turned towards justice. The challenge was huge. On the one hand, thousands of people suspected of being part of the genocide, held in prison and other improvised centres, often in horrendous conditions. On the other hand, most magistrates and lawyers had been killed or fled the country, infrastructures had been sacked and destroyed, the treasury of the ministers empty. All the judicial system had to be rebuilt, but time was of the essence.
Having not found in Rwandan law an appropriate mechanism that could be used in judicial proceedings against the genocide, the State promulgated, the 1st of September 1996, a law against the genocide. Proceedings of confession with plea of guilt was created, allowing the accused – except for the organizers of the genocide and those accused of severe crimes- to benefit from early release. Widely criticized, especially as the victims had to accept the procedure, and therefore the presumption of innocence of the defendant was violated, only a small percentage of defendants first choose to resort to it. Even if the number of people accepting the procedure has increased since 1998, difficulties remain.
Confessions were often incomplete and the judgment delays excessively long. By 1998, prison population reached a headcount of approximately 130,000 people accused of genocide. In 2002, the government resorted to popular courts, called Gacaca courts, to speed up the trials, establish the truth and contribute to reconciliation. The judges of the Gacaca courts were ordinary citizens, appointed by the population and had had no legal training before. They had handled roughly two million cases around the country until the closing of the Gacaca courts, in June 2012.
If the Gacaca courts were congratulated for having handled a large number of cases, letting the local communities participate and allowing some survivors to know what had happened to their relatives; they were severely criticized concerning the independence of the judges and their skills. They were thought to have been intimidated as well as being a political tool of corruption and legal error. The way in which they contributed to the reconciliation has also to be put in perspective. Although they gave rise to more revelations than the law of 1996, they were unable to dissipate any mistrust between the authors and the survivors of the genocide.
In parallel, the ordinary Rwandan jurisdictions were in charge of suing those accused of having planned the genocide, or having committed the more severe crimes. In 2007, the death penalty, applied for the last time in 1998, was abolished. Up until now, approximately 10,000 people have been judged for crimes linked to the genocide by classical courts.
Finishing its term soon, the ICTR charged 93 people; judged 78 people of which 55 were sentenced. This assessment set off criticism because of the relatively small numbers of cases handled, its very high cost and the length of the trials. Besides, no case involving the FPR was handled by the ICTR, which made some Rwandans think that only the justice of the winners was dispensed.
Finally, in virtue of the universal jurisdiction allowing the state to sue the authors of certain crimes, wherever the crime, the nationality of the authors and the victims, several Rwandan nationals were judged by foreign courts. Till this day, four trials were held in Belgium, one in Canada, but also in Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.