- 11 June 2011
- Independent (Uganda)
- By Magnus Mazimpaka
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights group, is long accustomed to drawing controversy in Rwanda. Whether branding President Paul Kagame’s regime as dictatorial or highlighting purported press freedom abuses, the well known and respected organization is often derided by Rwandan government officials as biased and misleading.
Its new report, entitled, “Justice Compromised: The Legacy of Rwanda’s Community-Based Gacaca Courts,” [link added] has not only helped to cement this reputation amongst local officials, but has also drawn the suspicion of an international diplomat whose own country is known for being critical of the Kagame regime…
In her opening remarks, Leslie Haskell, researcher at the HRW Africa Division and author of the report, told reporters that Gacaca courts had truly achieved a lot, but also left a lot to be desired…
Gacaca courts, largely built on the Rwandan community philosophy of settling disputes through truth telling and forgiveness, were introduced in 2004 to reduce the backlog of genocide cases for approximately 130,000 suspects who were languishing in prisons as they waited for their trial.
Among other achievements, Haskell said Gacaca courts helped with “locating and identifying bodies of victims and a possible easing of ethnic tensions.”
However, Haskell also said that she found in “many cases that potential witnesses failed to speak out in defence of genocide suspects because they feared prosecution for perjury, complicity in genocide or ‘genocide ideology’,” a term the report alleges is a, “vaguely defined crime prohibiting ideas, statements, or conduct that might lead to ethnic tensions or violen