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Rwanda To Release Over 30,000 Genocide Suspects
 
Hirondelle News Agency (Lausanne)
January 23, 2003
Posted to the web January 23, 2003

RWANDA/GACACA
Arusha, Rwanda will on Thursday begin implementing a presidential decree for
the provisional release of over 30,000 genocide suspects.
The suspects include minors and those who risk staying longer in detention
than sentences provided for crimes they allegedly committed. The suspects will
initially be sent to solidarity camps for "a familiarisation process on life outside
prison."
Rwandan president, Paul Kagame issued a decree on January 1st ordering
the release of genocide suspects who are physically incapable of standing trial,
minors and those who run the risk of serving longer in detention than sentences
provided for, were they to be convicted. Some 3,752 suspects are expected
to be released on Thursday. The decree will also benefit suspects in detention
for treasonable offences.
 
Over 100,000 genocide suspects await trial in crowded Rwandan jails. A new
justice system based on traditional Rwandan community justice was
launched in June,2002 to speed up the trial of genocide cases. The new courts
are known as Gacaca.
 
About 2,000 physically unfit suspects, including the elderly and the terminally
sick were released last week. The release of suspects in this category has
been done several times before.
Problems ahead? "We are doing final touches on files of suspects to be
released tomorrow", the prosecutor for the south west province of Cyangugu,
Emmanuel Mukunzi told Hirondelle. "We have sensitised the masses on the
importance and legal necessity of this exercise", he added. He also said that
the authorities were explaining to the public that the process wasn't an amnesty
but a provisional release.
Under Gacaca law, convicts will serve half of their sentences outside prison
doing community service. Suspects that will be released under the president's
decree will still stand trial. Most of them however, if convicted, will only do
community service since they will have covered half their jail term in detention.
 
Some genocide survivors' organisations and human rights organisations have
criticised the process. "We fear that this expected decision will undermine
efforts to deliver justice for the victims of the 1994 genocide through the
gacaca courts", reads a statement from human rights watchdog, African Rights.
 
The last time Rwanda released minors and the physically unfit en masse was in
1998. The exercise was halted after tens of released suspects and genocide
survivors were murdered in the aftermath. Officials in the justice ministry say
that the population and the suspects are this time more prepared for the
exercise.
The current decree for the release of suspects excludes suspects accused of
masterminding the genocide, distinguished murders and rape. The suspects,
about 3,000, and classified as 'Category One', are the only ones liable to the
death penalty. They will be tried in regular courts.