Genocide in Rwanda: “Without Justice, No Reconciliation”

Status: December 28, 2021 11:16 a.m.

The legal processing of the genocide in Rwanda began 25 years ago – an almost impossible task in a country in which almost the entire population has become perpetrators.

By Linda Staude, ARD Studio Nairobi

The brick walls of the former Catholic Church in Naymata are pitted from gunfire. Sunbeams fall through bullet holes in the roof on mountains of shirts, pants and clothes – the clothes of more than 10,000 people who were slaughtered in the church by militia and military.

It was like a killing competition. Some killed and then trampled the victims down as if they were being paid to do so. They used machetes, hammers, axes, and all sorts of other tools. I don’t know where they all got them from. It was really awful.

Charlotte survived the bloodbath along with only six other people – seriously injured, thought to be dead and left behind. The Nyamata massacre was one of the worst of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

At least 800,000 Tutsi were killed

“After the genocide, which was the worst crime ever committed in Rwanda and the largest one, we needed justice. Because without justice there can be no real reconciliation,” says Fidèle Ndayisaba of the State Commission for Unity and Reconciliation .

An almost impossible task in a country where almost the entire population has become perpetrators. Neighbors attacked neighbors – incited by the political leadership and by messages of hatred against the Tutsi on the Mille Coline state radio: “To all the cockroaches that listen to us. Rwanda belongs to those who defend it. And you cockroaches are not Rwandans.”

At the end of the 100 days of murder that have been prepared for a long time, at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu will be dead. Hundreds of thousands of perpetrators are sitting in prisons waiting to be tried. Often for years.

Traditional village dishes were revived

“After the genocide, all our institutions, including the judicial system, were completely destroyed. That would have meant waiting four or five hundred years for justice,” said Justice Secretary Johnston Busingye.

The courts begin their work around two and a half years after the genocide. But around two million perpetrators have to answer before Gacacas, the traditional village courts from pre-colonial times that Rwanda has revived for this purpose.

Often there is a testimony against a testimony

The year is 2009. The case of Kassian is being heard in a small village in southern Rwanda, charged with multiple murders. The first witness burdens Kassian: “He took part in the genocide and there are many witnesses for it. I came to the gacaca because these witnesses saw him murdering my family. You can say whether he is guilty. The Back then murderers came from here, from this village. “

Kassian rejects any guilt. He was with the killers, he says, but only because they forced him. He did not kill himself, he assured the judge when asked. He just didn’t want to be killed himself.

Testimony versus testimony – a difficult decision for the court to judge on 15 year old memories with no files or evidence.

Balance between justice and reconciliation

The work of the Gacacas has therefore been heavily criticized internationally, but it was necessary, asserts Ndayisaba of the state Commission for Unity and Reconciliation. “People had a platform to come together and uncover the truth. They gave opportunities to confess, repent and ask for forgiveness. But at the same time, they condemned to avoid impunity.”

Justice on the one hand, reconciliation and unity on the other – that was the aim of the legal appraisal of the atrocities of 1994. To end the hatred and prevent something like this from ever happening again.

“We have to cope with the situation that the relatives of the victims live next door to the murderers of their families again. That is the life that the people here have to endure,” said President Paul Kagame – himself a Tutsi and leader of the troops, who put an end to the killing after 100 days – repeatedly emphasized.

Criticism of legal processing

Frederique, for example, lives today in a so-called village of reconciliation, next to a young woman whose relatives he murdered. “I participated in the genocide of the Tutsi,” he says. “I live here because I asked for forgiveness. And I was forgiven for being so unfaithful to my country.”

The Gacacas have long since stopped their work, as has the International Court of Justice for Rwanda (ICTR), which tried around 100 masterminds of the genocide. The criticism of the legal reappraisal of the genocide remains.

“These were political trials because only Hutus were charged,” says Lennox Hinds, criminal defense attorney at ITCR. “Although there is clear evidence that Tutsis also committed war crimes.”

Acts of revenge by the Tutsi troops are hushed up

In fact, the Tutsi troops’ acts of revenge after the genocide in Rwanda are hushed up. Such accusations amount to a denial of genocide. Nevertheless, over 92 percent of Rwandans are convinced that national reconciliation has succeeded. And that there was justice after the genocide. As far as that was possible.

“Justice for the crimes of genocide can never be fully achieved. The judiciary can only ever give an incomplete answer to such crimes,” said Jean de Dieu Mueyo of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide.

Coming to terms with the horror – 25 years after the first genocide trial in Rwanda

Linda Staude, ARD Nairobi, December 28th, 2021 9:13 am

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