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Answers and Analysis: After Genocide

This week’s trivia and discussion focused on what happens after genocide–focusing particularly on Rwanda.

While the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the national courts in Rwanda were unable to process the large number of cases of accused perpetrators that remained. In light of this, the government adapted the pre-colonial, traditional gacaca courts to handle the remaining cases.

There may not be words enough to describe the immense challenges faced by the Rwandan people following the 1994 genocide. Nearly one million Tutsi and their Hutu sympathizers were killed, devastating a population. Considering that so many were killed n the short 100 day time frame, there must have been a large number of killers. Immediately after the genocide ended, more than 120,000 were arrested as suspects of having perpetrated genocide. So many were arrested that there was not even enough room in the prisons to house them. Not only was Rwanda’s population as a whole decimated, but the judicial system also was incredibly impacted. Many of the judges were either killed or were killers themselves in the genocide, making trials of accused perpetrators very difficult. Estimates say that with the ICTR and the national courts, trials would continue for maybe more than 100 years. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.

Upon establishing the adapted version of gacaca, the government hoped to speed the trials, bringing truth, justice, and reconciliation to the Rwandan population. While the ICTR is able to process only a small number of elite criminals, gacaca handles the remaining trials. While many praise the ability of the courts to speed trials and bring justice to Rwanda in a traditional way, there are several challenges the court faced.

One difficulty faced by the courts regards the safety and integrity of the inyangamugayo, or judges. In some areas where there are few survivors, it is possible for the judges, selected by the community, to be perpetrators. Even those who did not commit genocide may run a trial of a friend or relative. In addition, since they do not receive a salary for their work, they are susceptible to bribes, and hence trials may result in unfair and untruthful judgments; innocent ruled guilty, and guilty ruled innocent. Their security may also be a problem; they may face intimidation and may even possibly be killed by those who wish them to rule in a particular way.

Security of survivors is also a problem. Though security has improved in recent years, a few years ago it was not uncommon to hear of survivors being killed after giving testimony accusing members in the community of committing genocide. Such cases not only impact the survivor targeted, but also create a climate of fear among the survivor population which may be hesitant to offer testimonies as a result. In addition, it may even be possible for survivors to succumb to corruption, lying in testimony to create a desired outcome of the one who offered bribes.

Prisoners and those who defend them may also not be secure. While prisoners have safety in the prison for the most part, they may feel intimidated by other prisoners or perpetrators who remain outside prison. If prisoners give true testimonies and accuse them, they may fear being attacked by those they accused. Those who defend prisoners may feel intimidated to do so. Also, some do not trust the prisoners’ testimony in general, for they may wish to hide what they have done to protect themselves. They may speak the truth or a partial truth, as doing so, and asking for pardon, can decrease their punishments. It is unclear whether prisoners repent from the heart or in the interest of being released from prison. 

Regardless, trials are expected to conclude this June, and presidential elections will occur this August. There are widespread allegations of suppression of opposition candidates and parties, and two of the country’s independent newspapers have been suspended. Rwanda has come a long way since 1994, but rebuilding after genocide is never easy, and challenges remain to be overcome.

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