While the Attorney General of the Rwandan Supreme Court, Siméon Rwagasore, during a meeting with the public prosecutors on March 5, 1998, asserted that 5,000 genocide-related dossiers were to go before the courts in 1998, on January 19, 1999, he announced that 864 persons had been sentenced during the preceding year.39 Although this is almost double the number of sentences passed in 1997, the “mathematical impossibility”40 of the genocide trials remains valid: at the end of 1998, 125,028 persons remained officially detained, though the actual number is probably much higher. According to the Rwandan government, in 1998 several thousand detainees died as a result of AIDS, malnutrition, dysentery and typhus. During the month of November 1998, 400 prisoners died from typhus in the Rilima prison alone.41 In order to deal with this untenable situation, several alternatives are under discussion.
The first is the release of “prisoners without files or whose files only contain elements of their identification”, decided during an extraordinary session of the government on October 6, 1998. According to a communiqué issued by the Minister of Justice, this measure was to benefit about 10,000 persons. The announcement caused an immediate outcry. In a communiqué dated October 14, the influential association of genocide survivors Ibuka denounced this decision, like other similar measures taken in the past, as consolidating “the culture of impunity favouring a general amnesty”. In the same way, Privat Rutazibwa—a radical RPF ideologist—denounced the measure and violently opposed the Minister of Justice,42 who was forced into exile (see supra). Even the official press contested the government's decision: La Nouvelle Relève (no. 371, November 15, 1998) accused Hutu ministers of seeking to “settle the matter of their close friends detained for acts of genocide”. Here as well, the Minister of Justice was said to “handicap the proper functioning of justice” and was taken to task: in private, he holds “a speech of treason which discredits a n d destroys the government's efforts”. Furthermore, the past shows that measures of this kind favouring minors, old or sick people had already elicited similar reactions and acts of vengeance: thus in January 1998, 24 released persons were assassinated in the prefecture of Butare.43 The demonstrations and threats were not unsuccessful: besides the over one hundred released prisoners in December 1998 and February 1999, none of the other announced releases have taken place.44
A second measure under examination aims to use a modified form of popular justice—the gacaca—to try suspects in categories 2, 3 and 4 as set out in the genocide law; the suspects of the first category would be subject to the Tribunal of First Instance which would take over from the specialised chambers.45 While the government's projects take their inspiration from the gacaca, in actual fact these are new courts of law at the levels of the cellule (for the fourth category), the sector (third category) and the commune (second____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Talking or Fighting?Political Evolution in Rwanda and Burundi, 1998-1999. Contributors: Filip Reyntjens - Author. Publisher: Nordic African Institute. Place of publication: Uppsala. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 14.
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