NAIROBI, 16 Jan 2003 (IRIN) - A rights advocacy group has said the
government's release of up to 40,000 prisoners this month could wreak
"potential havoc" in the administration of genocide justice.
A statement released on Thursday by African Rights said the "provisional
liberty" being offered to the detainees would be likely to worry
genocide survivors, who would fear that suspects might thereby gain
the opportunity to attack their accusers, or evade justice through
bribery or exile.
As the Gacaca village "courts" began their work, they would face
additional and unforeseen problems, said African Rights. Having
released thousands of prisoners, the state would no longer be able to
guarantee their presence at the "trials", and witnesses would be more
vulnerable to intimidation from the accused. "Crucially, we believe the
releases will undermine popular confidence in the process - the very
factor upon which, our findings show, the success of Gacaca
The independence of judges would also be threatened. "Whatever the
arguments to the contrary, in reality it will be extremely difficult for
these judges to send back to prison thousands of detainees whom the
state has already taken the decision to free, especially in a country
where respect for authority is deeply ingrained." Moreover, inmates
might make false or partial confessions in order to gain their release.
Those who had confessed to their crimes (but not including
ringleaders) during the 1994 genocide, minors aged between 14 and 18
at the time of their alleged crimes, elderly prisoners, sick prisoners and
those accused of ordinary crimes would be included in the releases,
the government announced on 1 January. The measure also applied to
those who "run the risk of being imprisoned for longer than provided
for under the law".