CEDAR RAPIDS — A University of London professor testified about the gacaca courts of Rwanda, saying the lay judges of the court were fair and the system was effective in handling the hundreds of thousands of cases the came after the country’s 1994 genocide of almost 1 million Rwandans.
Phillip Clark, professor of comparative and international politics who has researched the Rwanda recovery and reconciliation since 2002, testified the 11,000 courts were purposely set up with lay people from each community or village to start a sort of healing process. It allowed community members to tell what they saw and experienced because they witnessed the events.
Clark, testifying for the prosecution, contradicted an expert on Thursday who said the courts were corrupt in an attempt to discredit a gacaca conviction and outstanding indictment against Gervais “Ken” Ngombwa for crimes of genocide in Rwanda.
Ngombwa, 56, faces up to 20 years in federal prison, and the prosecution is asking the court to increase his prison time based on his participation in the genocide.
The defense disputes Ngombwa’s participation in the genocide.
U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade didn’t rule on the sentencing Friday. She will set another hearing to make the ruling after allowing the lawyers to make recommendations.
Ngombwa was convicted in January of unlawfully procuring or attempting to procure naturalization or citizenship, procuring citizenship to which he was not entitled, conspiracy to unlawfully procure citizenship, and lying to agents of the Department of Homeland Security.
Evidence at trial showed Ngombwa lied to authorities about family relationships in an attempt to get his application approved for relocation after the genocide and to later obtain citizenship, according to trial testimony.
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In May, a judge revoked Ngombwa’s U.S. citizenship and canceled the naturalization certificate he had obtained in November 2004.
The defense expert on Thursday testified defendants in the gacaca courts didn’t have a right to a lawyer and the judges were not trained or lawyers themselves.
Clark agreed with him, saying the courts were specifically set up that way. The biggest issue the country had was how to handle the masses of genocide suspects. There was only a small handful of judges or lawyers. Many were killed or fled the country after 1994.
The community members who witnessed the atrocities provided evidence for the trials, and the judges made the rulings in the gacaca courts, Clark said. There were laws they had to follow, and the judges received two weeks training and other training over the years as laws changed.
Clark admitted it wasn’t a perfect system and had flaws. But he said he studied the courts for many years and attended 105 hearings from 2003 to 2012 in various areas of Rwanda, and during that time, he found them effective.
Ray Scheetz, Ngombwa’s lawyer, said a 2012 report by the U.S. State Department differs with Clark’s conclusion on the gacaca courts, saying the judges made rulings in one day and suspects didn’t find out their charges until the day of trial.
Clark said that wasn’t what he found in his research. He had read the report and the state department relied on other agencies, which didn’t study the courts over time.
Scheetz also questioned Clark’s work, saying how could he “ingratiate” himself with the locals — he couldn’t speak Rwandan and is a white man from Australia with “long, straight hair.”
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Clark said he relied on good interpreters, and he built rapport over the years with repeat visits to the same group of locals.
He said he followed 10 genocide suspects, who spoke French, as he does.
In Thursday’s testimony, a Homeland Security agent testified that several witnesses identified Ngombwa as a member of the extremist political party, MDR-Power, that participated in the Rwanda genocide.
The agent also testified about Ngombwa being sentenced to 30 years on one charge and life in prison in another, both for crimes of genocide in two different gacaca courts. Ngombwa and his wife and children fled the country after the genocide in 1994 and were relocated in refugee camps.
Ngombwa also was listed as a co-conspiractor in an indictment for his half-brother, who was convicted by a military court for genocide and is serving a life prison sentence.