RWANDA: Genocide suspects have until March to confess
Billboard in Kigali calls people to take part in the Gacaca courts. "If you tell the truth you can be forgiven or the punishment is reduced."
KIGALI, 9 February 2005 (IRIN) - Genocide suspects detained in Rwanda's prisons have until March to confess their roles in the 1994 killings and receive reduced sentences in the traditional "Gacaca" courts, Justice Minister Edda Mukabagwiza said on Wednesday.
Rwanda launched Gacaca, a revamped version of a traditional form of justice, in 2002 on an exploratory basis to speed up the trial of people suspected of taking part in the killing in 1994 of 937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, according to official estimates.
Under the Gacaca system, suspects who confess and plead guilty have their sentences reduced. The courts are meant to help reduce the huge backlog of suspects awaiting trail in conventional courts, estimated at 80,000.
Mukabagwiza has been touring all the prisons in the country, urging the suspects to confess their crimes.
Panels in 751 pilot Gacaca courts have questioned thousands of suspects in the past two years, to establish whether or not they had cases to answer. Gacaca officials say most of these sessions have been completed and court proceedings resulting from the investigations are due to start in the first week of March.
Investigations in the remaining 8,262 pilot courts will last at least three months, according to Gacaca officials. After the investigations, Gacaca judges will list and categorise suspects in preparation for trial.
Officials estimated that most of the Gacaca courts are expected to be fully operation by early 2006 but trials could start in those that complete the investigative process earlier.
In January, the executive secretary for the Gacaca courts, Domitille Mukantanganzwa, said that up to one million Rwandans - an eighth of the population - could be tried under the Gacaca system.
The suspected masterminds of the genocide are tried in the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania.