Strategic Planning (Justice)

Gacaca trial
Gacaca trial

In the lead up to the publication of the new Strategic Plan of Survivors Fund (SURF) for 2021 to 2023, 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.


Although progress has been reported by the Justice Sector, it continues to face numerous challenges including: the persistence of genocide ideology, lack of affordable and accessible justice for many, lack of accessible legal advice/aid/representation, considerable case backlog including a large number of land disputes, and the need to build the capacity of personnel.

These issues are exacerbated by existing incentive structures, which often reward delay rather than resolution of cases. For example, reluctance of police and prosecutors to screen cases on the basis of merit since their performance is measured more on quantity (of cases registered) than on quality (number of non-deserving cases not pursued or withdrawn).

The focus for the Justice Sector is on strengthening the sector capacity, improving access to quality justice, addressing genocide ideology and challenges to unity and reconciliation, enforcing the rule of law, and improving safety, law and order. The judiciary is considered to be independent.

The work of the sector is underpinned by the belief that access to justice is a fundamental right, that the law must apply equally to everyone, as well as a key means to defend other rights, and that it is essential for poverty eradication and human development as well as a means to address inequalities in power.

The legal rights of survivors were enforced to some extent through gacaca, a system of 12,000 community-based courts that operated from 2002 to 2012 to try over 400,000 genocide suspects while promoting forgiveness by victims, ownership of guilt by criminals, and reconciliation in communities. There still remain issues of gacaca judgements made in favour of survivors not been enforced due to those found guilty being indigent. As well, many young survivors are still fighting for the right for land and property appropriated by others during and after the genocide to be returned.

There are an estimated 25,000 people still in prisons in Rwanda for their role in the genocide. An estimated 5,000 of them are due to be released from prison through to 2022. 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 Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.

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, though several are now in custody and awaiting trial. The recent release of perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda is resulting in insecurity for survivors.    

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