Protection offered to individuals testifying before the courts, including the traditional gacaca courts, against members of the Interahamwe militia (2003 - 2005) [RWA100517.FE]

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

In its 6 April 2004 news brief, the Hirondelle News Agency, the press agency of the Swiss organization Fondation Hirondelle, reported that in light of the [Hirondelle English version] "fear of reprisals," witnesses appearing before the ICTR had access to a range of protective measures, such as "the use of code names, distortion of sound and images, closed sessions and relocation to other countries and if necessary, the change of identity." The purpose of those measures was primarily to [Hirondelle English version] "prevent the identification by the public and media of witnesses as well as their relatives and close associates" (Hirondelle News Agency 6 Apr. 2004).

However, in a 30 September 2004 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) related that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) "criticized the absence of confidentiality safeguards and security measures" for witnesses who return to Rwanda following testimony before the ICTR [located in Arusha, Tanzania] (HRW 30 Sept. 2004, Sec. III).During a 1 September 2005 telephone interview, the executive secretary of the League of Rights of the Individual in the Great Lakes Region (Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs, LDGL), an NGO in Kigali, Rwanda, whose mission is to [translation] "defend and promote human rights and basic freedoms in the countries of the Great Lakes region" of Africa (LDGL 12 June 2005), provided the information found in the next four paragraphs.

When they return to Rwanda after testifying before the ICTR, Rwandan witnesses benefit from no special protective measures beyond those available to all other citizens. Furthermore, the protective measures put in place by the ICTR for hearings do not guarantee the anonymity of witnesses once they return to the country. In Rwanda, where people live in small communities, a person's lengthy absence does not escape notice and assumptions about its underlying reason quickly spread through word of mouth. This is especially the case when people who testify before the ICTR receive certain material benefits (clothing, medical care) or occasional visits from ICTR staff, which serves to confirm the suspicions of the community.

Rwandan courts, including gacacas

The executive secretary of the LDGL stated that, as with the ICTR, individuals who testify before national courts, including gacacas, have no special protection. When witnesses return to their communities after giving testimony, they often face various forms of threats, intimidation and harassment, and sometimes death. The LDGL's executive secretary cited cases in which witnesses received threats along the lines of [translation] "I'm going to kill you; I'm not afraid of going back to jail." She also mentioned cases of poisoning, of vandalism, ranging from the stoning of witnesses' homes to arson, of distributing threatening pamphlets, and of killing witnesses' pets.

The LDGL's executive secretary also indicated that following the 2003 and early 2004 government authorities' [translation] "punitive expeditions" in areas where genocide survivors (potential witnesses) had been killed, murders of witnesses and survivors had become less frequent, as alleged genocide participants and their families instead resort to measures of reprisal that are more [translation] "discreet" and difficult to detect.

The executive secretary of the LDGL concluded by saying that these reprisals, or fear thereof, have dissuaded genocide survivors and those who were witness to it from testifying before the ICTR and the national courts, including gacacas (LDGL 1 Sept. 2005).

In addition, in Struggling to Survive: Barriers to Justice for Rape Victims in Rwanda, HRW reported that in terms of crimes of sexual violence, "[w]eaknesses in the legal system include gaps in statutory law [and] insufficient protections for victims and witnesses who wish to report or testify about sexual violence" (HRW 30 Sept. 2004, Sec. I).

In relation to the gacaca courts, the Belgian branch of Lawyers Without Borders (Avocats sans frontières, ASF), an NGO that [translation] "monitors the implementation and work of the gacaca jurisdictions," noted in a 28 February 2003 observation report that witnesses appearing before these courts were reluctant to speak mainly because of [translation] "the lack of protection measures."

However, according to HRW, "[a] new law adopted on June 19, 2004 restructures the gacaca system and appears to provide important safeguards" (HRW 30 Sept. 2004, Sec. I). The new law, according to a representative of the National Gacaca Office in Kigali interviewed by HRW,

enhances protections for victims of sexual violence in order to facilitate reporting and testimony. Under the new law, a rape or sexual torture victim may choose among three alternatives: testimony before a single gacaca judge of her choosing; testimony in writing; or testimony to a judicial police officer or prosecutorial personnel, to be followed by complete processing of the rape case by the prosecutor's office. By providing that gacaca judges will "secretly" transmit rape testimony to public prosecutors, the 2004 law implies, but does not explicitly require, that identifying information of rape victims will be kept confidential. (ibid., Sec. V).

On the occasion of the gacaca courts' first hearings, the Rwandan minister of internal affairs, cited in a 17 January 2005 article by the Hirondelle News Agency, announced that [Hirondelle English version] "the police were on alert to deal with any cases of violence or threats against witnesses or anyone else" participating in the work of those courts. According to the same article, "[t]here have been scores of Gacaca related killings in the past," which shocked genocide survivors, but "[t]he police and judiciary were very quick in responding to the killings" (Hirondelle News Agency 17 Jan. 2005).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Avocats sans frontières (ASF-Belgium). 28 February 2003. Rwanda: Les Juridictions Gacaca. Rapport d'observation, Assemblée générale de la Cellule de Nyakabuye. [Accessed 29 Aug. 2005]

Hirondelle News Agency. 17 January 2005. "Police on Alert as Gacaca Courts Start." (AllAfrica/Factiva)

_____. 6 April 2004. "Rwanda/Genocide Commemoration - The Achievements of the ICTR since 1994." [Accessed 29 Aug. 2005]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 30 September 2004. Struggling to Survive: Barriers to Justice for Rape Victims in Rwanda. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2005]

Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs (LDGL). 1 September 2005. Telephone interview with the executive secretary.

_____. 12 June 2005. "Présentation: Qu'est ce que la LDGL?" [Accessed 2 Sept. 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Publications: Africa Confidential, Africa Research Bulletin, Jeune Afrique/L'Intelligent, Keesing's Record of World Events, Resource Centre country file.

Internet sites, including: AllAfrica, Amnesty International, BBC Africa,, Government of Rwanda, Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), MISNA, ReliefWeb, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).