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Sustainable peace key to post-genocide reconciliation

a plaque at the Kigali Memorial Centre. The Centre is built on a site where over 250,000 people are buried.
(Ann Weru/IRIN)

Almost a decade and a half since Rwanda's genocide, reconciliation efforts are using traditional cultural models to build trust between communities, despite reports of continued targeting of survivors and judges of the "Gacaca" justice system.

"Unlike the truth and reconciliation commission model, we are using homegrown models for reconciliation because of the nature of the conflict which was 'hate built'," Fatuma Ndangiza, the executive secretary of the national unity and reconciliation commission (set up by parliament in March 1999), told IRIN in the capital Kigali.

"There is a tendency after conflict to expect solutions to come from outside creating dependency and a lack of sustainability," Ndangiza said.

Traditional confidence building initiatives include the 'Ingando', which entails organising month-long reconciliation retreats for those returning to their former communities after facing trial.

"They are put in a setting where they [survivors and perpetrators] live together as the conflict was based on stereotypes," she said.

"When people are in Ingando, they can go for 'Umuganda' for trust building," she said. In Umuganda the population participates in community work every last Saturday of the month to enhance cohesion.

"It is a civic duty to participate in Umuganda to ensure that all participate in reconciliation and development," she said.

Reconciliation challenges

The process of reconciliation is not without challenges. "You have a million perpetrators to be tried who then have to live with the victims. This is not easy," Ndangiza said.

Poverty and illiteracy are also challenges. "Most perpetrators are poor...the elite planned but manipulated the ordinary masses," she said. "If you want to have sustainable peace, you have to make sure you have an equitable society."

"There is also a need to rewrite history so that its teaching is not manipulative but rather serves as a lesson," she said. A history handbook is being prepared to serve as a manual and be adopted by the ministry of education.

Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
Fatuma Ndangiza, the executive secretary of the national unity and reconciliation commission

Reports of continued targeting of genocide survivors and judges of the "Gacaca" justice system remain rampant.

Rwandan officials initiated traditional Gacaca courts to try some of those responsible for crimes committed during the genocide, and to decongest the prison system.

At least 170 genocide survivors have been killed since 1998 with 14 deaths reported since January, according to the executive secretary of Ibuka, an umbrella organisation for genocide survivors, Benoit Kaboyi.

"Those continuing to perpetrate these crimes need to be punished," Kaboyi said, adding there was a need for psychosocial care for those traumatised.

The Rwandan government estimates that at least 937,000 people were killed in the genocide between April and July 1994. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls suffered various forms of sexual violence.

"Initiatives to bring justice are currently in place but more needs to be done," he said.
"Sometimes we need evidence and those providing [it] are threatened, some judges have also been killed," Denis Bikesha, the director of training, mobilisation and sensitisation in the national Service of Gacaca courts, said. Police posts have been set up in the areas where people were being threatened, he said.

Some of the witnesses are also not truthful and there are also cases of bribery to turn 'guilty' people 'innocent', Bikesha said.

Traditional courts

The Gacaca courts tried 1,059,298 cases by the end of 2007. The first trials started nationally on 15 July 2006 with at least 1,127,706 cases being received. At least 30 percent of those charged were declared innocent.

Since June, the courts have also been given the authority to try cases involving rapists and those who killed or intended to kill and their accomplices. High level leaders and organisers of the genocide are tried in the conventional courts.

Before, Gacaca courts tried property-related cases, torture and incitement. "We are almost done with these cases," Bikesha said.

He said he expected the cases involving rape and killings, estimated at more than 10,000, to end in 2009.

Ndangiza said the process of reconciliation required constant engagement. "There are some extremists in society who still have genocide ideology."

Photo: IRIN
Remains of the 1994 genocide victims at Ntarama Church, Kigali Rural Province

"It is a difficult task measuring the progress of reconciliation," she said. “However, the fact that people are able to co-exist in mixed settlements is encouraging."

National summits on reconciliation are also held every two years to monitor and evaluate the process, she said.

Rwanda has laws against discrimination and genocide ideology with penalties of up to life imprisonment. "We also monitor politicians' speeches during campaigns," Ndangiza said. "Ethnic identities can be destructive if not well managed."

Selafina Mukoimbtizi, a resident of one of the grouped settlements for survivors and former displaced people locally known as "umudugudu" in the Kimiroko area on the outskirts of Kigali, told IRIN she had forgiven those responsible for killing two of her children during the genocide.

"We meet and see them [the perpetrators] around...at least they accepted their mistakes and we forgave them," she said.

"We are now used to this kind of life because we cannot reverse what happened," she said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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