Strategic Planning (Justice)

Gacaca trial
Gacaca trial

Further to the publication of the new Strategic Plan of Survivors Fund (SURF) for 2024 to 2028, we will be publishing several posts to provide more context of our work – and implications for the the survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda which we support.


The justice system in Rwanda has navigated a complex and transformative journey, especially in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The grave nature and extensive scale of the atrocities necessitated innovative and multifaceted approaches to justice, reconciliation, and accountability. Two significant mechanisms emerged: the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), mandated to try masterminds of the genocide at an international level, and the Gacaca courts at the national level, which were community-based justice systems derived from traditional Rwandan dispute resolution processes.

There are estimated to be over 20,000 people still in prisons in Rwanda for their role in the genocide, many of them due to be released from prison over the next four to five years. The organisers and leaders of the genocide were mostly sent for trial at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, which resulted in less than 100 prosecutions, and closed in 2015. Any appeals are now heard by the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

Rwanda’s legal system operates within a framework guided by the constitution, legal statutes, and international law obligations. The country has various institutions mandated with ensuring justice, including the judiciary, the National Public Prosecution Authority, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, and the Rwanda Correctional Service, among others. The judiciary encompasses various courts, such as the Supreme Court, High Courts, and Primary Courts, each with defined jurisdictions and mandates.

Ensuring access to justice for all citizens has been a priority in Rwanda’s justice sector. Various mechanisms, such as the provision of legal aid through different organizations and initiatives, have been instituted to enhance accessibility, particularly for the indigent and vulnerable. The Legal Aid Forum, consisting of various organizations and entities providing legal aid (including Survivors Fund SURF), and the Maisons d’Accès à la Justice (MAJ), which are access to justice bureaus located across the country, are examples of structures enhancing legal accessibility.

Rwanda has placed a strong emphasis on restorative and reconciliation-oriented approaches to justice, particularly in addressing the repercussions of the genocide. The Gacaca courts, 12,000 of which operated from 2001 to 2012, aimed not only at accountability but also at fostering truth-telling, community participation, and ultimately reconciliation. Various programs and initiatives have also aimed at supporting survivors and facilitating reconciliatory processes within communities.

Over the years, the Rwandan justice sector has pursued various reforms and development initiatives aimed at enhancing the efficacy, transparency, and accessibility of the justice system. Investments in human resources, technology, and infrastructure, as well as legal and policy reforms, have been undertaken to bolster the sector. Nonetheless, challenges persist, such as ensuring comprehensive access to justice, addressing case backlogs, and continuously enhancing the quality and integrity of justice delivery.

Rwanda’s journey in justice is also interlinked with dialogues on human rights and international justice. While the country has made significant strides in stability and development, dialogues around political space, freedom of expression, and other human rights domains form part of the complex tapestry of justice considerations. Rwanda is also actively engaged in international justice dialogues, considering its history and experiences.

Implication for survivors and related vulnerable groups: Survivors are still fighting for justice for the genocide, in particular in the form of compensation still owed to them through awards made in gacaca trials which have not been honoured and enforced. Younger survivors still require support to enforce their right to property and land appropriated in the genocide. There are still a number of high-level genocidaires at large, including in the UK. The continued release of perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda is resulting in insecurity for survivors.    

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