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Trivia and Discussion: After Genocide

April is Genocide Prevention Month, and a time when we remember the genocides of the past. As anti-genocide activists, we spend our time monitoring current conflicts, educating others, and taking action to ensure that further violence will be prevented and these conflicts end. This year, we have educated ourselves and others on the importance of prevention, ensuring that genocide does not occur in the first place. However, we spend little time thinking about what happens after genocide. While we may take the time this month to remember Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, do we ever consider how societies transitioned from devastation to peace? Once genocide ends and killing abates, peace may not yet be attained. There is a long process of discovering the truth about what occurred, judging the perpetrators, and reconciling broken societies. This process may take years, even generations. As one Rwandan survivor noted at a recent commemoration event in Boston, what occurred 16 years ago may sometimes seem like just 16 hours ago to a survivor.

This week’s discussion will use the case of Rwanda to explore the challenges faced after genocide.

Trivia: What justice mechanisms (courts, tribunals) judge accused perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda?

Discussion: What challenges did Rwanda face after the 1994 genocide in judging perpetrators? What challenges remain?

Rwandan Genocide

  • After much preparation and organization, the killings began on April 6, 1994 after the assassination of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana.
  • Extremist Hutu, organized in the interahamwe militias, began eliminating Tutsi elite and politicians, then moved on to ordinary citizens, usually using machetes.
  • As the largely Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) fought its way to the capital to end the killing, the international community remained unengaged.
  • On July 4, 1994, the RPF made it to the capital, and fourteen days later declared the genocide to be over.
  • Estimates on the death toll range from at least 500,000 to more than one million.
  • Over 120,000 were immediately arrested on the charge of participating in the genocide.
  • Estimates say that prosecuting the number of accused in regular national courts would take more than 100 years.
  • Learn more here.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

  • Established by the United Nations in November of 1994
  • Trials occur in Arusha, in neighboring Tanzania
  • Responsible for judging those accused of the most serious crimes (category one) such as recruiting, leading, and organizing killers or committing acts of sexual violence
  • To date 50 cases have been concluded, 24 are in progress, and 2 are waiting to begin
  • Many Rwandans feel disconnected from the court as it takes place in Tanzania, not in Rwanda, and tries only the highest criminals–not necessarily those who had a role in killing their loved ones.
  • The Rwandan government’s request to try perpetrators in its own national courts were denied.
  • Learn more here

Gacaca (gah-cha-cha) Courts

  • Translates roughly to "justice on the grass;" this community-oriented justice mechanism existed in pre-colonial times as a means for families to resolve problems by discussing with one another.
  • In 1996, the Rwandan government began considering using this mechanism for dealing with perpetrators of genocide, and officially established the courts for this purpose in 2002.
  • Objectives are to: learn the truth about what happened; speed the trials; eradicate the culture of impunity; reconcile and unite Rwandans; prove that Rwanda can author its own solutions.
  • Trials occur in the villages where crimes occurred, and all who are able may attend. Anyone is able to provide testimony, either defending or accusing the accused. Occurring in villages all over the country, trials are accessible to all and help speed the trials of the thousands of accused.
  • If the accused is found guilty, upon accepting what s/he did and asking for forgiveness, s/he may receive a lesser sentence. This may include doing community service work, such as building houses for genocide survivors. Those who refuse to accept may return to prison.
  • Since many judges either were killed or were themselves killers, communities elect inyangamugayo–"persons of integrity"–to serve as judges. Oftentimes the judges have little formal education, though they are given some trainings. There is no salary for their work, and corruption is common. Personal emotion is also cited as a reason for false judgments, as it is possible for a judge to judge a member of his or her family. In some communities where there are few survivors, it is even possible for those who participated in the genocide to be elected as judges. Furthermore, their personal safety may be compromised according to their judgments, and intimidation may also cause false judgments.
  • Though usually a local defense force is present, safety of those who give testimony–survivors and others–cannot be guaranteed. Reports of survivors being killed because of their testimonies make others hesitant to give testimony during a trial. However, in recent years safety has improved.
  • Survivors may experience trauma at trials upon recounting their experiences and in learning details from the accused about how, when, and where their loved ones were killed. However, many survivors cite learning about what happened, and discovering where loved ones’ remains are buried, as a major positive factor of gacaca.
  • Neither the ICTR nor gacaca addresses war crimes, such as revenge killings, committed by the RPF. While many note that gacaca was established specifically to deal with genocide, RPF crimes are not addressed in any other court.
  • Gacaca is expected to conclude in June of 2010, after extensions.
  • Learn more here.

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