An overloaded justice system
By 1999, five years after the genocide, about 120,000 alleged genocide criminals were being held in Rwanda’s prisons.
The court system was swamped - it was going to take over 100 years to get through the backlog of cases.
In November 1994, the UN Security Council, which had done little to stop the massacres, set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Based in Arusha, Tanzania, it targeted the ringleaders and organisers of the genocide. By 1999, only seven trials had been completed, at a cost of several hundred million dollars.
Clearly, they had to find another way of delivering justice.
Gacaca: justice on the grass
In 1998 the government started looking at the possibility of re-introducing Rwanda’s traditional community justice process called gacaca. The word refers to the small grassy area where villagers would traditionally get together to solve disputes.
It was a controversial idea. Was it wise to hand over the responsibility to the community? What would the rest of the world think? Would it emphasise punishment or reconciliation? President Kagame, who was Vice President at the time, said, "I wan't convinced that gacaca was the best approach. I still don't think gacaca gives us all we need... but it gives us most things... I wanted something stronger than gacaca. The survivors were calling for strong justice. After all, they had been through genocide. Was gacaca going to be enough for them? ...eventually I was persuaded that gacaca would help us deal with the massive number of genocide suspects who were in prison." (1)
(1) Phil Clark: The Gacaca Courts, Post Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda. Justice without Lawyers. Cambridge University Press, 2010