In 2004, The Government of Rwanda amended the laws governing Gacaca courts so as to address problems which emerged in the preliminary phases such as the harassment of witnesses, one of the biggest challenges facing Gacaca as it moves into its third and final phase the hearing of trials.
In October and November 2003, three Gacaca witness were murdered in the district of Kaduha, in Gikongoro province, in southwest Rwanda .
“We thought Genocide was over, but it seems it is still going on in Kaduha” laments Mediatrice Mukaneza a relative of a murdered witness.
Emile Nahimana went missing on 4 th October last year and his body was found tied to a log in a river, eight days later. The body of the second witness, Charles Rutinduka was found at his home cut with machetes. The two men had earlier said they would testify in the Gacaca courts.
Early in 2004, ten people were convicted and sentenced to death for the murders. Two others received life imprisonment.
“The prosecution will not tolerate people who are killing witnesses because they are speaking the truth. We will follow them up until they are punished” says Rwanda ‘s prosecutor General Jean de Dieu Mucyo.
Despite these convictions, other witnesses still fear for their lives.
Kayinamura Fidel, brother to one of the victims says he is afraid to testify or to provide any documents that would lead to the arrest of some suspects.
Fidel is also considering fleeing from his home village for fear of being harmed. “If the government helps me out, I will stay here. Otherwise I will have to run away from these killers and go to a safer place” he says
Many potential witnesses in Kaduha district appear to share such worries and are afraid to testify at Gacaca, for fear they too will be murdered.
But others see the three Gikongoro killings as the result of personal animosity between individuals, not as a genuine threat to the Gacaca process. Rugemintwaza Emmanuel says there is no reason to be afraid. ‘ People live well with each other except those who have personal misunderstandings. The rest of the population has no problem. Witnesses tell the truth about what they saw. There is no problem in it!’
However, some witnesses think that local people in Kaduha district don’t really know how Gacaca is supposed to work. But Gacaca officials say people know very well what Gacaca is all about
Despite this, the officials are concerned about what happened in Kaduha and do not want it to be repeated elsewhere in Rwanda .
So, they’re asking the Government to ensure adequate protection for all witnesses, all over the country “ We request that the security of the witnesses and Rwandans in general, be maintained so that this issue does not hamper the performance of the Gacaca courts” remarks Isaballe Kalihangabo Gacaca councilor for Gikongoro and Butare provinces.
The ministry of Internal Security is in charge of guaranteeing the security of every Rwandan. Minister Ntiruhungwa Jean de Dieu says after the Kaduha killings, the government has intensified night patrols and local security meetings to curb such acts of insecurity. Minister Ntiruhungwa however says that local people have the responsibility to help security officials to maintain a safe environment by giving them timely information about security issues.
So as Gacaca prepares to begin actual trials, security of witnesses remains one of the pressing issues. The Government guarantees to protect them and law makers are also working to make Gacaca law more explicit. This may encourage witnesses to testify without fear.