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Justice, Democracy, and Impunity in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Searching for Solutions to Impossible Problems

NCJ Number
Criminal Law Forum Volume: 7 Issue: 3 Dated: (1996) Pages: 523-560
W A Schabas
Date Published
38 pages
Rwanda's experience in prosecuting genocide may form a new chapter in the area of impunity; the country has rejected more conciliatory approaches, such as an amnesty or a truth commission, and seems determined to try the more than 87,000 suspects in custody and to punish those who are found guilty.
Rwanda's judicial system, however, is not capable of responding to the challenge. Given the number of judges, prosecutors, and courthouses, most suspects now in custody may die of old age before they ever get to court. Rwanda's National Assembly adopted legislation in August 1996 to deal with genocide and crimes against humanity committed between October 1990 and December 1994. The country began to try genocide suspects in late December 1996. Some of the first trials were marred by the absence of defense counsel and impetuous refusals by trial judges to grant adjournments so the accused could find lawyers or otherwise prepare their cases. In cases where defense counsel was present, hearings were more acceptable from a human rights standpoint and provided Rwanda's judicial system with a model on which to base future prosecutions. Some observers from the international media and the diplomatic corps were initially critical of the trials, but much of this dissatisfaction actually resulted from unfamiliarity with the inquisitorial system. Conditions of detention in Rwandan prisons and the International Criminal Tribunal established by the United Nations Security Council for Rwanda are discussed. 107 footnotes