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Rwandans: a reeducation in how to live together

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Last fall, at gacaca, Uwimana recounted the story before the nine inyangamugayo, or "persons of integrity," who oversee the trials. Gacaca courts adapt a traditional dispute-resolution mechanism that Rwandans used before the country was colonized by Belgium.

Before, the inyangamugayo were respected village elders; these days, they're elected by the community, their backgrounds vigorously investigated. Roughly 40,000 elected judges were dismissed for crimes as minor as small property infractions and for any hint of connection to genocide.

After several years of pilot trials, gacaca started nationwide in 2006, with over 12,000 courts meeting every week until just last month. The elected inyangamugayo effectively served as both judges and jury, listening to witnesses and rendering a sentence. They were also de facto lawyers, rigorously questioning everyone who testifies before opening the floor to the community to do the same.

The process has not been without its critics. Human rights groups have objected to the lack of legal representation for the accused, who are tried in abstentia if they repeatedly fail to fulfill their summons. Some experts even raise concern about the scope of gacaca jursdiction, which does not include crimes alleged to have been committed by the Rwandan Patriot Front, the former rebel forces led by President Kagame and credited with ending the genocide.

"Gacaca has focused on even the most minute property crimes that were committed by Hutu against Tutsi," says Longman. "The problem is that there has been very little justice on the flip side of that; that is, there's been almost no accountability for RPF crimes against Hutu."

But Stephen Kinzer, author of the Kagame biography "A Thousand Hills," says gacaca has been necessarily limited from the outset by its dual purposes.

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