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Rwanda: Year-ender 2002 - Justice makes slow progress

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NAIROBI, 17 January (IRIN) - Under intense diplomatic pressure, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his counterpart, Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), signed the Pretoria Peace Accord on 30 July.
The accord committed Rwanda to withdrawing all its troops from DRC territory in return for the demobilisation and repatriation of Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe militias and former armed forces, who sought refuge in the DRC following the Rwandan genocide.

Rwanda began to implement its side of the agreement on 17 September. On 5 October, the UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, confirmed that 20,941 of a total of 23,760 soldiers whom the Rwandan military command had declared had left.

The Rwandan government explained the shortfall of 2,819 soldiers as being due to leave, training and other assignments at the time of withdrawal. Accusations followed from the DRC government, the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, and local people regarding the continued presence of Rwandan troops on DRC territory. Neither MONUC nor the Joint Military Commission has found any evidence to support these reports, however.

On 1 November, Kagame and Kabila agreed to an extension of 90 days for the DRC to fulfil its commitments under the agreement. By the end of 2002, however, only 430 ex-combatants and 355 dependants had been repatriated (out of an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 former combatants, each with an average of two to three dependants) under the disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, resettlement, reintegration programme. It is estimated that the entire process will take between 18 months and two years to complete, due to an assortment of logistical problems, once it starts in earnest.

Within Rwanda, hopes for peace and reconciliation remained high in 2002 - particularly in official circles - with the start of the Gacaca village "court" system. The village-level courts, which will operate over a period of four to five years, will try those accused of participation in the 1994 genocide. Having trained almost 255,000 judges, pilot trials were operational from June to October.

In November, the first 673 courts opened nationwide, starting with the gathering of evidence regarding the victims and accused, crimes committed, and those eligible for compensation. These courts are expected to begin handing down judgments in the first quarter of 2003. In March 2003, a further 8,258 courts will open, thus bringing the system to its full complement.

The issue of compensation or reparations for crimes committed during the genocide is seen as being key to the process of reconciliation. The Rwandan transitional government is currently developing a reparations policy, which, analysts say, needs to be in place before the Gacaca courts start handing down judgements in 2003 (Internews).

Exactly who will qualify for reparation funds, and how much each victim will receive, remain unclear. Finding the money is a key issue - the government plans to set up a fund with 8 percent of the annual national budget, to replace the current genocide survivors' fund, which receives 5 percent. Gacaca law allows for the commutation of half of convicts' sentences to community service, which will allow the government to gather some funds. Donors have also been asked for assistance in this regard.

It remains unclear how the new government policy will incorporate existing court orders requiring both the government and those charged with participation in the genocide to pay large compensation sums.

A number of key genocide suspects were apprehended in 2002 and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania. The Chief Prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, has said the Tribunal should have completed its prosecution work by 2004 and, all going well, its trials by 2008. A total of 26 new prosecutions are expected by the end of 2004 (Internews). In order to speed up the judicial process, the number of trial chambers and judges at the Tribunal will be increased in 2003, and about 40 of the cases will be transferred to national jurisdictions (Internews).

Relations between the ICTR and the Rwandan government deteriorated throughout the year. The postponement of trials due to travel regulations imposed by the Rwandan government on witnesses wishing to travel to Arusha, and delayed appointments for key positions at the ICTR, were points of contention. The ICTR has also accused the Rwandan government of being less than cooperative over investigations into crimes allegedly committed by its own army in 1994.

In July, an official complaint was lodged by the ICTR at the UN Security Council, which was rebuffed with Rwanda accusing the Tribunal of "a crisis of management, incompetence and corruption of its own making".

In December, a first-ever visit by Rwandan officials to the Tribunal - which it was hoped might smooth relations between them - was cancelled at the last minute. This was followed by a reminder from the UN Security Council, that the government was "obliged" to cooperate fully with the Tribunal.

The year ahead promises to be a key one for Rwanda, with all eyes watching the development of the Gacaca system and democratic processes in the country. A draft constitution is currently being developed, which should be finished by July when the transitional government officially has to step down. Presidential and legislative elections are also planned for June 2003, which will almost certainly see the re-election of Kagame.

Meanwhile, Kagame's transitional government has come under increasing fire for restricting basic civil and political rights, including freedoms of association and expression.

[ENDS]

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