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Rwanda 'gacaca' genocide courts closed

Rwanda's controversial 'gacaca' village courts, which oversaw genocide prosecutions, have officially ended their work.

Rwanda genocide trialsEnlarge
A picture taken Dec. 3, 2003 shows a witness facing the president (with umbrella) of a gacaca community-based court session in Rwanda. The gacaca courts were set up to try genocide suspects, and take their inspiration from traditional village tribunals. (THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images)

Rwanda's community courts, called "gacaca," have officially closed after a decade of overseeing prosecutions of those involved in the 1994 genocide.

The controversial, village-based courts were established to speed up the process of criminal court prosecutions, and handled more than 1.5 million cases related to the genocide.

The gacaca courts met weekly, often outdoors in a village market or under a tree.

But the courts were criticized by rights activists for failing short of international legal standards, the BBC said. Judges were selected from among communities, and lacked legal qualifications.

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More than 800,000 ethnic minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were massacred during 100 days in 1994.

The UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up in nearby Tanzania to try the genocide's ringleaders, while civilians who were involved in the genocide were sent to the gacaca courts.

CNN reported that government officials gathered in Kigali over the weekend to mark the closure of the gacaca court system.

"What these courts achieved went beyond anyone's expectations. They administered justice and united Rwandans at the same time," Rwanda President Paul Kagame said in a statement posted on the gacaca courts website, according to CNN.

"These courts were evidence of our ability to find solutions to challenges that seemed insurmountable."

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Last month, former Rwandan Youth Minister Callixte Nzabonimana was sentenced to life in prison by the UN tribunal in Tanzania after being found guilty of playing an important role in the 1994 genocide.

The UN court found Nzabonimana, 59, guilty of genocide, as well as extermination, incitement and conspiracy.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/120618/rwanda-gacaca-genocide-courts-closed