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Grassroots Justice in Rwanda
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Grassroots Justice in Rwanda
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Rwanda: Gacaca Justice
Rwanda, with the assistance of the European Union and the United Nations Development Program, has set up a village-based justice system to try over eight hundred thousand people suspected in taking part in the genocide that shattered the Rwandan society twelve years ago. Called "gacacas," it is based on an old customary legal system and is helping establish the rule of law as well as bring reconciliation between guilty parties and victims.
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Produced by UN in Action.

Find out more about Rwanda's "gacacas."

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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
In Rwanda, men and women wearing pink uniforms are a common sight. Pink identifies prisoners accused of participating in the genocide that shattered this society twelve years ago. In this church in Nyamata, 5,000 people were slaughtered in one attack. Today, it is one of the many memorials to the massacre of up to one million men, women, and children in the course of three short months. The bloodbath left the new government of Rwanda with the daunting task of trying some 800,000 people suspected of having taken part in the killings. It would have taken a century to try all the accused in normal courts. A village-based justice system was created, Judge Celestin Mbarimombazi explains.
JUDGE CELESTIN MBARIMOMBAZI
The gacaca system is based on our customary legal system from a long time ago.
VOICEOVER
Years of planning and testing out pilot projects led to the largest experiment in popular justice in modern history. The local judges were elected. They are called Inyangamugayo or "righteous people," and work on a voluntary basis. Christine Umutoni is the gacaca expert for the United Nations Development Program.
CHRISTINE UMUTONI
All they have is that they are examples, that they are good people, they can't cheat, and they are not sectarian. But that's all. They don't have any legal training.
VOICEOVER
More than 250,000, close to six percent, of the country's adult population, serve as judges in the gacacas. They were trained with assistance from the European Union and the United Nations Development Program.
JUDGE CELESTIN MBARIMOMBAZI
We have been trained at three different times. I myself was taught to prepare others, with the help of this booklet.
VOICEOVER
Today, Thadeo Mbirkanyi is accused of killing two boys. He has no defense lawyer. There is no prosecutor. Everyone in the gacaca court speaks for himself or herself. This makes the grass roots courts different from regular courtrooms in the West, and even in Rwanda. Coordinator Paul Rwangalinde.
PAUL RWANGALINDE
We are trying to make some investigation to know exactly how genocide was prepared, how genocide was conducted, and the consequences of the genocide itself.
VOICEOVER
The judge questions Elia Kinyogote, the father who lost two sons in the genocide.
JUDGE CELESTIN MBARIMOMBAZI
You really saw the attack with your own eyes?
ELIA KINYOGOTE
Yes, I saw the accused with another killer.
VOICEOVER
These workers have been convicted in gacaca courts. They have changed their pink prison outfits for a navy vest. The letters TIG identify them as serving their sentence by working in the interest of the community. Convicts cut their penalty by half when they agree to do community service instead of remaining in jail. Stanislas Nyiribambe likes the alternative.
STANISLAS NYIRIBAMBE
Since I confessed my crimes and asked the victims to forgive me, I think that the gacaca did its job well and I accept my punishment.
VOICEOVER
The convicts pay for their crimes with the sweat of their brow. They are as poor as most Rwandans who live on a dollar a day and could not pay for the damages they have caused. People in this community accept the houses they build for widows and orphans as a compensation.
JUDGE CELESTIN MBARIMOMBAZI
You couldn't say that it's a hundred percent, but really there's been a high level of reconciliation between people who are guilty and those who are victims.
VOICEOVER
The unspeakable crimes of genocide cannot be erased or forgotten. But the gacaca court system, even with all its imperfections, is helping re-establish the rule of law in one of the poorest countries in Africa. The United Nations prepared this report.