Genocide and the Legal Process in Rwana: From Genocide Amnesty to the New Rule of Law
Prior to the 1994 genocide, Rwandan law provided amnesty for persons who committed serious crimes in the service of the Hutu “Social Revolution” against the Tutsi elites. Murder and other criminal acts undertaken by Hutus who challenged Tutsi political domination were effectively forgiven by amnesty. The law was subsequently repealed during the reconstruction of Rwanda when the judicial system was restructured. This entailed the revitalization of the traditional Gacaca courts due to the enormous number of cases arising from the 1994 massacres. Simultaneously, it spurred constitutional changes to ensure the modernization of the rule of law. This article describes the amnesty law and its role in creating a culture of impunity that led to genocide. It explains how the Gacaca courts arose in the face of massive criminal caseloads and it describes the legal changes that reformed the judiciary and paved the way for constitutional guarantees of legal rights.