Rwanda’s Gacaca courts: a mixed legacy

The establishment of Gacaca courts in 2001 is one of the key landmarks of post-genocide Rwanda. The current Tutsi-led government hails these courts as a success claiming they have provided post-conflict justice like never before. But its detractors, which include major human rights organizations, believe the system has serious shortcomings.

On 18 June 2012, the Rwandan government will officially close down these courts that have tried around two million genocide suspects. But, all things considered, will their legacy be one of worthwhile success or regrettable failure?

In the wake of the 1994 Tutsi genocide, Rwanda was faced with enormous challenges, notably rebuilding its social fabric that had been torn apart by the war and the mass-killings targeting ethnic minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates. By all accounts, this was the worst genocide of the last half century.

Vast swathes of the population were involved with the killings and there was urgent need for the new Tutsi-led government to ensure that justice was done for the survivors.

One of the biggest challenges they faced was that the existing judicial system simply could not cope with the surge of arrests. At the time, Amnesty International estimated there were around 124,000 prisoners in prisons with a total capacity of less than 49,000.

For some genocide survivors it was hard to stomach the fact such horrendous crimes committed against our kinfolk could be punished through these petty courts

But during the genocide Rwanda’s judicial system had collapsed, the infrastructures of the country’s courts had been destroyed, and many of its judges and lawyers had either been killed or fled the country. The new rulers soon realized that putting these suspects on trial through the usual channels could take up to 200 years.

Eager to deliver justice, the government established the Gacaca courts in 2001. These courts were based on the traditional system of settling disputes in which judges are inyangamugayo or people of great integrity. The word Gacaca means ‘lawn’ in Kinyarwanda. Originally, these traditional community-based courts helped to resolve disputes such land wrangles, thefts, marital issues, and vandalism.

Trivializing the crimes

But for some genocide survivors, like myself, who had lost scores of relatives it was hard to stomach the fact such horrendous crimes committed against our kinfolk could be punished through these petty courts. The move was seen as trivializing the crimes against humanity committed by the marauding Hutu militias, the government, its army and the police.

However, there was no time to waste as the new Tutsi-led rulers were keen on showing the survivors – and the international community – that justice was being done in arresting and putting on trial those who were involved.

During these trials, defendants are given shorter sentences in exchange for confessing and are encouraged to seek forgiveness from the victim’s family. The survivors are also able to finally discover how their loved ones were killed and where their remains had been disposed of.

But these trials provoked anger among many genocide survivors who thought the Gacaca courts would let many killers off the hook by allowing them to enter plea bargains.

Social tensions created by the trials have led to verbal assaults and physical violence directed towards genocide survivors. In some cases, people have been murdered so they could not testify

‘You have all these people who are recognizing that they have killed not one person, not two, not ten but so many people,’ says Bonaventure Niyibizi, a genocide survivor and former chair of Ibuka (Remember), an association for genocide survivors.

He cited the trial of those involved in the killing of his mother at the beginning of the bloodletting in 1994.

‘All of them are free on the basis that they have confessed to the killing of my mother and what is even more disturbing is I don’t believe the confessions they made were genuine,’ he said.

A Gacaca trial in July 2006.

Photo by schacon under a CC Licence.

Another worrying fact about these trials is the social tensions they created which have led to increasing verbal assaults and physical violence directed towards survivors. In some cases genocide survivors have been murdered so they could not testify.

An additional major criticism of the Gacaca courts is the failure to put on trial members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) [the current ruling party led by President Paul Kagame] who committed revenge killings.

‘One of the shortcomings of Gacaca has been failure to provide justice to all victims of serious crimes committed in 1994,’ noted a report by Human Rights Watch. ‘By removing RPF crimes from their jurisdiction, the government limited the potential of the Gacaca courts to foster long-term reconciliation in Rwanda.’

Other potential flaws highlighted by human rights watchdogs include doubts concerning impartiality and objectivity while dealing with relatives who stand accused of genocide crimes, corruption and the possibility of having genocide suspects among the judges themselves.

The same bodies criticized the Gacaca courts for not adhering to a number of universal principles like the presumption of innocence, the lack of prohibition against double jeopardy, the lack of adequate resources to ensure prompt trial and the lack of the right to self-defence. There have also been reports of forced confessions.

Significant benefits

However, other researchers and international scholars have welcomed the achievements of the Gacaca courts. Phil Clark, a lecturer in comparative and international politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London argues that these hearings have delivered significant benefits that ‘will have an enduring impact on every level of Rwandan society.’

He lambasted Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for their negative attitude to the Gacaca courts arguing that they often identify the worst cases of corrupt or traumatizing hearings and suggests that these are not representative.

‘Such selectivity may be useful from an advocacy perspective but it is analytically flawed and undermines legitimate criticism of Gacaca,’ he says. ‘While the full impact of Gacaca will not be apparent for many years, it is possible to identify three main spheres in which the process has delivered benefits to Rwandans – justice, truth and democratic participation.’

After the horrors of war and genocide that rocked Rwanda in 1994, no one can say that national reconciliation has been fully attained. But the Gacaca courts are certainly a starting point for achieving these goals

Perhaps the achievements of the Gacaca courts should be measured against those of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha, Tanzania. While the Rwandan grassroots courts have tackled as many as two million cases, the ICTR has only managed to complete 69 trials. Gacaca trials have cost $40 million, whereas the ICTR trials have cost a staggering $1 billion.

Clearing the backlog of genocide cases has been beneficial for Rwanda in terms of the quick reconstruction of the shattered social fabric. This was only arrived at because of the law that was introduced in 2008 that requires suspects to ask for forgiveness as well as show remorse in exchange for lighter sentences.

After the horrors of war and genocide that rocked Rwanda in 1994, no one can say that national reconciliation has been fully attained. But the Gacaca courts are certainly a starting point for achieving these goals. Rwanda is today maybe the only country where the victims of such hideous crimes live side by side with the perpetrators. This perhaps explains why some countries, like the Ivory Coast, Somalia, and Southern Sudan, in trying to confront the aftermath of the violent conflicts in their respective countries, have sent delegates to Rwanda to learn about the workings of its local justice system.

Holidays in Rwanda

For many years, I yearned to visit the home country I left for England almost a decade ago. As the old Kinyarwanda saying goes: ‘Foreign lands may be attractive, but there is nothing lovelier than Rwanda.’ I dreamed of taking my wife and three children there for a summer holiday.

This year, something special happened. While I was making a routine call to one of my sisters in Rwanda, she surprised me with an invitation. She wanted me to come with one child. She told me not to worry about buying the air-tickets; she had finished making the bookings herself. It took us several nights to decide which child was to travel with me. Patrick, my eldest son who had just turned 15, was the lucky one.

‘This was an opportunity to show my son how I had managed to survive the mass killings’

We took a late-night flight for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and then continued the next morning with a flight to Kigali. I didn’t know what to expect. My excitement was high – but it was tinged with sadness. Unlike most other teenagers, Patrick would not be able to see his [paternal] grandparents. My parents had been mercilessly butchered during the 1994 genocide of Tutsis.

But those dark thoughts buzzing around mind during the flight vanished upon arrival on my home soil. My Kigali! A dozen relatives and an old friend had come to welcome us at the airport with flowers. After multiple hugs and kisses, we drove off to my sister’s house in downtown Kigali.

I was determined to show Patrick the city that I first knew as a youth in 1982 and to tell him the story of each place. Having lived in Britain for so much of his life, Patrick feels more British than Rwandan, but I don’t want him to forget his roots. This was also an opportunity for both of us to visit the sites of crucial episodes that marked my life between April and July 1994 and to show my son how I had managed to survive the mass killings.

A walk down memory lane

Jean and Patrick arrive at Kigali International airport. They are accompanied by Jean’s sister Martha.

With this in mind, I took him to Jeunesse Ouvrière Catholique (JOC) hostel, the Sainte Famille Church, and Hotel des Mille Collines. JOC is such an important place in my life! It was here that I landed upon arriving in Kigali in 1982 – and here that I was to land again during the genocide 12 years later.

After finishing my secondary school studies, I was unable to get a government scholarship to go to university, so my father sent me to the capital to look for a job. I didn’t know anyone. I had nowhere to stay. The JOC hostel was the best affordable place for someone in my situation.

Though I later managed to go to the National University of Rwanda, from time to time I would come back to JOC to stay with my best friend Ange-Albert. He was a driver for Rwanda’s National Information Office. He, together with dozens of other Tutsis, was killed on 7 April 1994 by marauding Hutu militia.

I explained to Patrick that the victims were taken from the Centre for African Languages where we had sought refuge at the beginning of the genocide. The Centre was next to JOC and a few hundred metres away from Sainte Famille Church.

I then took Patrick to Hotel des Mille Collines (which became ‘Hotel Rwanda’ in the famous film of that name). Moving from hideout to hideout, I managed to reach this hotel in mid-May 1994. This is where I and over 1,000 other Tutsis found sanctuary. From there, we were evacuated to safe areas behind rebel lines.

A warm welcome at the aiport from cousins and nieces.

I wanted Patrick to see the infamous Sainte Famille Church, where Tutsi refugees were butchered at the hands of the Hutu militia, encouraged by Catholic priest Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, who is now living in France.

Further down from Sainte Famille Church was La Pastorale Saint Paul, another centre where many Tutsis were massacred. But a good number survived, thanks to a selfless Hutu Catholic priest who risked his life to protect Tutsi refugees. There I met an old colleague of mine, Justin Mugabo. He was in the process of setting up a studio for a private radio station called Sango Star.

‘My aim is to provide a platform for open discussion of the problems facing our country, notably, national reconciliation, freedom of speech and much more besides,’ he told me.

For Mugabo, it is important that all Rwandans openly debate all issues facing the country in the aftermath of the horrors. His radio is one of a dozen private stations that have been created in the past 10 years.

He reckons that though the genocide happened 16 years ago, Rwandans, especially the genocide survivors, are still haunted by it. In his opinion, radio stations like his can play a vital role in reconciling and healing communities that are still in pain.

‘One parent who took his children there on such a visit, later regretted it.’

I asked journalist Jean Gualbert Burasa, head of the Kigali-based publication Rushyasha, about freedom of speech. ‘Freedom in the wide sense is limited, due to the fact the media in Rwanda has never recovered from its hideous role in inciting the genocide.’

He confided that it was a matter of striking the right balance between exercising one’s right and being responsible for one’s publication. He reminded me of the role played by media such as the infamous Radio Television des Mille Collines (RTLM) and Kangura (Wake up) newspaper in inciting mass-killings. ‘Nobody wishes to see such kind of media emerging again,’ he said.

Initially, I had planned to take Patrick to my birthplace in Gikongoro. But I was discouraged by his aunts, who told me that there was nothing to see except ruins and bushes. I was advised against taking him to Murambi, the site of one of Gikongoro’s notorious genocides where more than 45,000 Tutsis were butchered in 1994.

One parent who took his children there on such a visit, later regretted it. ‘His children were traumatized for a very long time after,’ my relatives told me.

I decided to take Patrick on a more pleasant journey outside the capital to Umutara, to visit some of his mother’s relatives – my wife’s mother and grandmother. En route, we were able to see Rwanda’s beautiful plains east of the capital and the delightful Lake Muhazi.

Clean streets, fountains and gardens

Back in Kigali I wondered at the pace of change in Rwanda. It’s quite dazzling. Sixteen years ago, Kigali’s streets were littered with corpses, most of the infrastructure had collapsed and basic amenities were non-existent. Today, Kigali has a new look, with clean streets, widened roads, beautiful roundabouts with fountains and statues surrounded by gardens.

Much of the cleanliness is thanks to the work of women, many of them widows of the genocide, who get to work before the cock crows, armed with brooms, shovels and wheelbarrows. In a country where job opportunities are scarce, this scheme, organized through the four local districts of the capital, is a lifeline for many.

In the process of transforming itself, the Rwandan capital has increased and expanded. Affluent residential areas have proliferated alongside state-of-the art office complexes. But poverty also persists in the slums of Ndjamena and Biryogo.

As the city has expanded, so has commerce. Supermarket chains such as the Nairobi-based Nakumatt and Simba have stores in the heart of the capital that are open 24/7. New banks are open from 8 am till late in the evening. Shops used to close on Sundays but now most seem to be open most of the time.

The face of the capital may have changed, but good old Rwandan cooking of spicy grilled goat meat, chicken and banana, served up in the city’s cafés and restaurants has not. The difference is that the people sitting in these places can now also watch English Premier League football – a novelty for Rwanda.

Rifts, ructions and fears

‘All these achievements could easily go up in smoke,’ one former Member of Parliament, who asked not to be named, told me. He was referring to the open rift between President Paul Kagame and four former close associates in the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front.

The four include Lieutenant General Kayumba Nyamwasa, former Army Chief of Staff, and Colonel Patrick Karegeya, who headed the country’s external services. Both are now exiled in South Africa. The other two are half-brothers Dr Theogene Rudasingwa, who was Kagame’s Director of Cabinet, and Gerald Gahima, Rwanda’s former General Prosecutor. Rudasingwa now lives in the US. He and other prominent Hutu exiled politicians have set up what they call the Rwanda National Congress (RNC). The four have reportedly allied themselves with the FDLR – the Rwandese Defence Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The four dissidents claim that: ‘Rwanda is less free today than it was prior to the genocide. There is less room for political participation than there was in 1994. Civil society is less free and effective. The media is less free. The government is more oppressive than the one it overthrew... Rwanda’s much acclaimed progress in economic development is not sustainable... Rwanda also remains very unstable and vulnerable to violent conflict. The development of physical infrastructures in an environment marked by mistrust, fear and social polarization does not equate with sustainable development.’

They advocated the use of force to remove President Kagame and the RPF from power because, they said, ‘in the absence of progress towards democratic rule, the marginalized Hutu majority will take up arms and attempt to overthrow what they consider to be a Tutsi-dominated minority regime, in just the same way the marginalized Tutsi rose up against the regime of the past. The overthrow of the present government would, in all likelihood, be preceded by horrendous reprisals by the RPA.’1

According to an uncomfirmed UN report, the dissidents may have already started to mobilize a force that could launch attacks on Rwanda from bases in eastern DRC, with the help of FDLR Hutu rebels. If this were to happen, Rwanda would surely slide back into the mayhem we witnessed 16 years ago.

The group has always denied any link with the FDLR, which is internationally blacklisted as a terrorist organization. However, in an interview with a Ugandan newspaper in August 2010, Karegeya had expressed his intentions to wage war to topple Kagame.

‘A dictator can never step down, they are brought down. It’s only Rwandans who can stand up now and fight. Kagame will have his breaking point and I think it will be very soon,’ he told Kampala-based newspaper The Observer.2

In Rwanda, this splinter RPF group is not openly talked about. But the few people who dared speak to me about it expressed grave anxiety about the possibility of another war breaking out in Rwanda.

Our holidays in Rwanda were short but enjoyable – to some extent. I wish, however, that Patrick and I could have gone back to my home village in Gikongoro. More than 100 of my relatives were massacred during the 1994 genocide and this is where most of them perished. I would have liked to have shown the killers who are still roaming around that the ‘Sebataras’ – the descendants of my great-grandfather Sebatara – are not extinct after all!

  1. Kayumba, Karegeya, Gahima, Rudasingwa. Rwanda Briefing, August 2010.
  2. ‘Exiled Rwanda colonel calls for war on Kagame,’The Observer, Kampala, 2 August 2010.

Murderers, you are welcome!

Is Europe a safe haven for Rwandan mass killers? This is the question I ask myself every day.

Unfortunately, given the facts on the ground, the sad truth is ‘yes!’ I will try to explain why.

Nobody really knows their exact numbers, but they are everywhere – in cities, in towns, in remote villages, where they have managed to hoodwink hosts who have received them with open arms.

I had thought that genocide was a crime against humanity. I thought that all nations of the world would stand together to try to prevent it happening again. I thought they would want to punish perpetrators regardless of where the crimes had been committed.

What has been particularly shocking to me, as a genocide survivor, is to see how little interest many countries, including Britain, have in arresting suspected genocidaires living within their borders.

Baffling release

The majority of suspects accused of major involvement in the 1994 genocide – in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and several thousand Hutus opposed to extremism – are on the most wanted list of the Rwandan Government and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR – see box overleaf).

Britain is currently thought to be sheltering some 19 major suspects. Four of them, Vincent Bajinya (who has changed his name to Vincent Brown), Celestin Ugirashebuja, Emmanuel Nteziryayo and Charles Munyaneza were arrested in England in 2006 on suspicion of ‘killing, or conspiring with or aiding and abetting others to kill, members of the Tutsi ethnic group with the intent to destroy in whole, or in part, that group’.1

Presented with a substantial body of evidence, the then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith authorized their extradition to stand trial in Rwanda.

But in April 2009 the High Court in London overturned her decision and set free the men, who were able to return to their families and continue living in Britain.

Genocide survivors, the Rwandan Government and many international organizations were left baffled and angered.

In their ruling, the appeal judges declared: ‘We conclude that if [the four suspects] were extradited to face trial in the High Court in Rwanda, the appellants would suffer a risk of a flagrant denial of justice by reason of their likely inability to adduce the evidence of supporting witnesses.’1

This has been contested by Phil Clark and Nicola Palmer of the University of Oxford’s Transitional Justice Research (OTJR), who argue that their research in Rwanda over the last six years ‘shows that most defence witnesses are willing to testify in genocide hearings. The quality of justice delivered through Rwanda’s courts has increased markedly during this period.’2

The option of trying the men in a British court was not available due to a legal loophole. Britain’s relevant genocide legislation, passed in 2001, was not made retroactive to 1994 when the Rwandan genocide took place.

Meanwhile, another loophole in British law relating to residence prevented many suspects from being extradited. Suspects had to be officially resident in Britain to be extradited on genocide charges. Many are not. They either have other types of visa or are seeking asylum.

However, following the release of the four accused – Brown, Ugirashebuja, Nteziryayo and Munyaneza – in London last year, the campaign groups Redress, African Rights and Aegis stepped up their efforts to get the law changed – with some success.

In July 2009 the Government decided to apply the jurisdiction of British courts to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes retrospectively to 1 January 1991. Then in October 2009 the loophole relating to residency was tightened and the definition of residency clarified. The new laws came into force on 6 April this year.

This means that, in theory, Brown, Ugirashebuja, Nteziryayo and Munyaneza could now face trial in Britain. It remains to be seen whether Britain uses these new powers to see justice done, but it is likely that Rwanda will request extradition again.

There are numerous other cases lying dormant in UK police files that could have been acted upon had the new laws been in place earlier.

‘What should happen now,’ says Nick Donovan of the campaign group Aegis, ‘is that police go back over existing files of suspects and reopen their cases.’

‘Our worry is that the police lack the resources to carry out this work. The war-crime team of one or two police also has to do anti-terrorism work, which is considered more urgent.’

Justice campaigners are calling for more resources to be directed to pursuing genocide suspects. They are also calling for a specialist war crimes unit (which existed to pursue Nazi war criminals) to be recreated in Britain. ‘We think the situation warrants a specialist team of experts,’ says Nick Donovan. Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Canada and the US all have such teams.

French hospitality

Across the channel in France, Rwandan genocidaires have been able to exploit a culture of impunity with even greater ease.

Though their exact number is not known, many of the suspects are on the Interpol Red Notice list. In some instances the French authorities – and the clergy – have done everything possible to assist in the settlement of suspects. Persistent calls by the Rwandan Government and organizations of genocide survivors have been ignored.

It beggars belief to see how much energy the French authorities have put into forcibly removing Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers from the Calais ‘Jungle Camp’ formerly known as Sangatte, while tacitly allowing hard-core Rwandan Hutu extremists accused of the most heinous crimes against humanity to settle in France.

Among the high-profile suspects living in France is Agathe Habyarimana (aka Kanziga), the widow of the late Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana – whose death in a plane crash on 6 April 1994 triggered the 100-day carnage.

Although she is on the list of suspected ‘first category genocidaires’, Agathe Habyarimana has lived peacefully in a suburb of Paris since 1994. She was denied leave to remain, but the French authorities have so far been unwilling to extradite her.

In March this year, following a visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy to Rwanda, she was arrested on a Rwanda-issued international arrest warrant on suspicion of helping to mastermind the genocide. She was later released on bail.3

Callixte Mbarushimana, acting head of the terrorist FDLR, enjoying the good life in France.

Another big fish living in France is Callixte Mbarushimana. He is accused of crimes of genocide by his former colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kigali, where he worked. Mbarushimana is alleged to have directed and participated in the murder of 32 people – including UN employees he was hired to protect.4

After the genocide, Mbarushimana went to Angola where he continued to work for the UNDP, until he was laid off when the charges against him became known. In spite of this, he was later enrolled as a UN staffer in Kosovo. Again, the accusations against him came to light and he was discharged in 2001 – but then went on to claim $47,635 compensation from the UN for unfair dismissal.

On 5 March 2009, the UN Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Committee for Sanctions put him on the list of people barred from travelling under UN Resolution 1857. Mbarushimana is also accused of serious crimes against humanity in his role as Secretary General of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) which is currently wreaking havoc in the eastern DRC.

The FDLR is an offshoot of the former Rwandan government forces accused of being at the helm of the 1994 genocide. After their defeat by Tutsi rebels from the now ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), they fled to Congo where they reincarnated themselves as the FDLR. The latter are accused of mass atrocities including killings and rapes of thousands of women.

In November last year a UN report established a direct link between the FDLR and its political leadership in Europe, and its chairman and vice-president were arrested in Germany. Callixte Mbarushimana stepped into the breach to become the organization’s de facto world leader.

Other key suspects who have found safe havens – and jobs – in France include two medical doctors, Eugène Rwamucyo and Sosthène Munyemana. Both are alleged to have been among the top ringleaders of massacres of Tutsi in Butare, Southern Rwanda.

Rwamucyo was even able to get a leading French politician, Thierry Lazaro of the ruling UMP, to intercede on his behalf with Sarkozy’s cabinet minister to obtain papers enabling him to work in French hospitals.5

He continued to work in the French health system until last October, when a nurse working in the same hospital in Mauberge discovered that Rwamucyo was wanted for genocide crimes.

The second doctor, Sosthène Munyemana has been described in the UN and other post-genocide investigations as a close protégé and ideological partner of the Hutu-power leader Jean Kambanda.

Residing in France since the genocide, Munyemana was employed as a doctor in the emergency room of a Bordeaux hospital until his arrest, made at the request of Rwanda, in January this year. He was released on bail and denies the charges against him.6

Others currently in France and wanted by Interpol include the former Governor of Gikongoro, Laurent Bucyibaruta, who is accused of training and arming others to kill around 45,000 Tutsi at Murambi Technical School and in other parts of the province. Father Wenceslas Munyeshyeka, who was parish priest of Sainte Famille Church in the heart of the capital Kigali in 1994, is accused of genocide, rape, murder and extermination.

A hopeful thaw

Frosty relations between Rwanda and France – which was accused of sponsoring the former Hutu regime that carried out the genocide – have not helped the struggle for justice.

Matters were not improved when French judge Jean-Louis Burguière issued arrest warrants against high-ranking officials of the current Rwandan Patriotic Front Government that came to power after routing the genocidal forces. Rwanda responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with France.

Meanwhile, calls by Rwandan genocide survivors of the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR) for France to arrest suspected genocidaires have fallen on deaf ears.

But in recent months there has been a change of mood within the French administration and diplomatic relations between France and Rwanda have been restored. A visit to Kigali by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in January was followed a month later by a visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy, during which he admitted that France – and the wider international community – had made ‘mistakes’ over the genocide.3

In a surprise move, the French authorities have indicated that they intend to set up a new panel to try cases of genocide committed in France or abroad. Kouchner and justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie have been quoted as saying that the legislation to set up the new court within the Paris High Court will be made public in the next six months. We shall see.

I sometimes wonder whether one genocide has the same importance as another

Other countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden have shown less tolerance towards Rwandan genocide suspects. Since 2001, Belgian courts have put on trial a number of suspects, including two nuns. Meanwhile, Canada stands out as taking a leading role in arresting and putting on trial some of the fugitives hiding there.

But there are still many suspects living unperturbed in European countries. Some of these suspects even harass genocide survivors exiled in these countries and propagate the same anti-Tutsi ideology that was behind the genocide.

Never again?

I sometimes wonder whether one genocide has the same importance as another. In light of the facts presented above, it seems to me that in the eyes of the world the Tutsi genocide counts for less. I was surprised, a few months ago, at the way in which the US and Germany hastened the arrest and trial of retired US car-worker John Demjanjuk for his alleged role in Nazi massacres. Why is the world not acting with the same decisiveness in apprehending Rwandan genocide suspects?

The 1994 Tutsi genocide took place in broad daylight. It has been blamed on the culture of impunity that characterized Rwanda for decades. In letting off the hook the many perpetrators living in exile, the international community will have failed to honour its post-Holocaust pledge of ‘never again’.

The ICTR, which was to complete this year, has been extended until 2012. The international community still has a chance to prove that it is not indifferent to bringing to justice the mass murderers currently finding refuge abroad. We genocide survivors will be watching.

ICTR - at a glance

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established by the United Nations Security Council in order to judge people responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Located in Arusha, Tanzania, the Tribunal has so far convicted 41 persons and acquitted eight.

Those prosecuted include senior political and military figures, as well as influential persons in the media and clergy, and a songwriter who was found guilty of assisting the genocide.

The tribunal has set certain precedents in law, including the recognition of rape as a war crime and, when specifically targeted against a certain ethnic group, a crime of genocide.

The ICTR is not without its critics. Some argue that it has been overly influenced by the Washington-based Human Rights Watch organization, which has questioned the ability of Rwanda’s justice system to ensure a fair trail. This in turn has hampered extradition processes.

For its part, Human Rights Watch, while praising the work of the Tribunal, has criticized its prosecutor for failing to bring charges against members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (which became the Rwandan Army) who had been implicated in war crimes.

  1. Frances Gibb, ‘High Court halts extradition of four men wanted for Rwanda genocide’, The Times, 9 April 2009.
  2. Phil Clark and Nicola Palmer, ‘The International Community Fails Rwanda Again’, Oxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series, 5 May 2009.
  3. BBC, ‘Rwanda president’s widow held in France over genocide,’ 2 March 2010,
  4. Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith, ‘The UN Betrayal, American Radio Works,
  5. Ségolène Royal, ‘France-Rwanda des relations complexes : Eugène Rwamucyo, le symptôme’, 22 October 2009,
  6. R Marquand, ‘France arrests Doctor Accused in Rwanda Genocide’, The Christian Science Monitor, 21 January, 2010.

Rwanda – why I support the death penalty

Imprisoned suspects: ‘The Government cannot put to death thousands and thousands of people.’

Amnesty International

The decision by the Rwandan Government to abolish the death penalty came as a surprise to many. After the 1994 genocide of one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, it seems unthinkable. But, following a vote by Parliament in June 2007, President Paul Kagame signed a decree to remove the penalty from the country’s statute book.

Even 13 years after the mass-killings the wounds are still fresh and may never heal. There are very deep motives for this unending trauma that will mark my life, that of my children and many thousands of other survivors.

It was during the genocide that my dad Gabriel, mum Domitila, brothers Gerard, Benoit, Alponse and Amabilis, 15-year-old sister Esperance and nephew Aimable were brutally murdered – not to mention scores of aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and former classmates at secondary school and university, or the people I worked with when I was a teacher and later an independent journalist in Kigali. Only my niece, Louise, miraculously survived.

They all perished in mid-April 1994 at the hands of the murderous government army, the police, the notorious Hutu militias and the Hutu mob. I never got a chance to give a decent burial to my people. Some were dumped in mass graves, others were just buried in shallow graves and later exhumed by the authorities before we could locate their remains.

They were killed by neighbours we had lived alongside for decades without any problem. I know who these killers are, like the person who hit Gerard with a club three times on his head, finishing him off. Some were briefly detained and then released; others have carried on their normal lives in my village, or fled the country.

But, though I may be bitter, I do not wish any act that could be interpreted as revenge. The crimes are not excusable. However, despite the agony and trauma, putting to death those who murdered my parents and relatives would not bring them back. The Government cannot put to death thousands and thousands of people. By doing so, it would be carrying out the same barbarity that characterized previous regimes, which trivialized the lives of the people.

Rwanda has lifted a major obstacle to the deportation of renowned genocide suspects, like Leo Mugesera in Canada. He was a member of the Akazu – kitchen cabinet – of the then Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana. Mugesera made a speech to 1,000 Hutu members of his party telling them to kill Tutsis by sending them back to where they came from – ie Abyssinia – by a short cut, dumping them in the Nyabarongo, a tributary of the Nile. Hundreds of Tutsi were massacred in his home region in the northwest of Rwanda and in other parts of the country.

Though I may be bitter, I do not wish any act that could be interpreted as revenge

Some of the most-wanted _genocidaires_ are holed up in Western countries, including Britain and North America. The Government’s move will reassure these countries that if the _genocidaires_ are sent back to Rwanda they will not be put to death.

I am aware that not all genocide survivors have welcomed the decision. It requires courage to look forward and turn the page on the enormous suffering that recent history has brought us.

But there are many things we Rwandans, both victims and victimizers, stand to gain. According to Louise Arbour, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Rwanda’s decision is a ‘powerful endorsement of the importance of pursuing justice while repudiating violence in all its forms’. The abolition of the death penalty should also help to cement national reconciliation and set standards for African nations to emulate.

*Jean Baptiste Kayigamba* is a journalist now living in Britain.

Haunted mornings, sleepless nights

As a Tutsi and a genocide survivor, my account here is not neutral, but a deeply personal one. It is a narrative of how I survived an attempt to annihilate all Tutsi in Rwanda and of the events I witnessed first-hand in the lead-up to, and during, the genocide. It is also a narrative of how I have since tried, day by day, to come to terms with the devastating personal legacies of these experiences.

Nearly all of my relatives, including my parents, two sisters and five brothers, were killed in 1994, perishing at the hands of the genocidal government, its army, its militias and Hutu mobs. Only two of my sisters, one niece and I survived. Like all Tutsi, my whole life has been a chain of suffering because of violent discrimination and extreme fear for my life and those of my loved ones.

It is not easy for me to recount what happened in Rwanda in 1994. Whenever I ponder the genocide, I revisit the agonizing death of my family and friends, and the physical and emotional trauma I also suffered. It sickens me to think that they knew one day they would be killed, but they never attempted to flee the country to find safety elsewhere. I also relive the terrible days of the genocide, when all Tutsi in the capital Kigali were counting the hours until they would be killed. As Hutu militias prowled the streets looking for Tutsi, we experienced haunted mornings and our fears continued throughout the days and sleepless nights.

I was born in Gikongoro province in 1963, the year after Rwanda gained independence from Belgium. This area is known even today as a hotbed of Hutu extremism. As a child, I grew up hearing from my parents harrowing stories of the sadism and cruelty that characterized the massacres of that time. My father once told me that the rocks on the banks of the Rukarara River remained crimson for years because the blood of thousands of Tutsi had flowed so freely there.

The bloodletting begins

On the morning of 7 April 1994 a group of armed presidential guards stormed the compound of the Jeunesse Ouvrière Catholique (JOC), where I lived. Several friends and I dashed through a nearby fence and sought refuge in the compound of the Centre for Learning of African Languages (CELA), run by the priests of the Catholic White Fathers.

Later that afternoon our camp swelled to 400 frightened Tutsi refugees and a few Hutu, including women and children. More continued to arrive that evening and during the following days. The fresh arrivals told harrowing stories of entire families being butchered. The White Fathers briefed us every day, telling us the names of those who had been killed. We realized that, as the situation stood, it was unlikely we would survive. The Fathers were soon evacuated by French and Belgian soldiers and left us with the keys to the camp.

We started to organize, focusing on the need to maintain hygiene. We sent most of the women and children to Saint Paul, a nearby religious centre in the Sainte Famille Parish. To ensure that we had enough food to hold out for a long period we contacted the Red Cross, who sent us a dozen sacks of beans.

Our camp was raided two weeks later, around 10.00am on 22 April. We were attacked by a combination of soldiers, members of the _gendarmerie_, the local population and the Interahamwe militias – some armed with guns and grenades, others with traditional weapons such as _pangas_, machetes and spears. Colonel Tharicisse Renzaho, Mayor of Kigali City, and Major General Laurent Munyakazi, Head of Muhima Police Station, led the attackers. Further back in the group was Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, Vicar of Sainte Famille and nicknamed _Umujeune_ (‘the young one’). He used to move around in a flak jacket, armed with a pistol and grenades. He was notorious for protecting women and girls who had satisfied his raging libido. During the attack he stood where he could see us and asked the killers not to harm women and children. Despite Munyeshyaka’s role in the genocide, he now lives free and peacefully in France. During the attack, the killers rounded up around 30 men accused of being accomplices of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). It was obvious that the killers had a list of names – luckily enough, I was not on it. Being a Tutsi, a journalist and a graduate of the local university made me a prime target. Before the young men were taken away we were told that they would be interrogated before being released. About an hour later we heard staccato gunshots nearby – only two survived.

In the afternoon, I and a couple of other Tutsi decided to go back to JOC, traumatized and still wondering whether the militia would come back to look for us. As night began to fall a few of the Hutu young men grew suspicious – some even called for our expulsion. We were given an evening meal, but I could hardly eat anything. We were shaking uncontrollably and talking incoherently.

The following morning a friend (who would later become my wife) sent someone to look for me. After the attack on CELA she had moved to the parish of Sainte Famille. She convinced me that I should leave the hostel and join her there. That morning a friend and I left the hostel and began walking in the ditch along the main road. Trucks of Interahamwe militia drove past. One reversed, in a bid to get us. We gathered the last energy we had and ran quickly towards the church. Had they caught us we could have not survived. The next afternoon my friend and I heard that we had escaped death for a second time: that morning militia arrived at the hostel where we had been hiding and killed all of the people sheltering there.

From the church to ‘Hotel Rwanda’

The premises of Sainte Famille were large: in addition to the church itself, there was a compound containing a school and several accommodation units. The complex became overcrowded with both Tutsi and Hutu refugees. Some of us slept on the altar and did not have enough to eat. Father Munyeshyaka, the Hutu vicar who had been present at the assault on CELA, was not interested in helping us. Instead he continually insulted the refugees and blamed the Tutsi for assassinating the father of the nation, President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose plane had been shot down over Kigali on 6 April, sparking the first killings. The dominant feelings among the refugees were of fear and mutual distrust. The Tutsi were afraid that the Hutu refugees were spying on them. We could see some strange faces visiting, apparently to gather information. We took every possible precaution to conceal our identities. I changed my name from Jean Baptiste to Thacisse.

‘I still bitterly regret that the world betrayed my people in our hour of need. A gigantic coalition was raised to invade Iraq. What was needed to stop the killings in Rwanda was not a big force, just a few thousand.’

Meanwhile, one of my sisters who had reached the refuge of the famous Hotel des Mille Collines in the centre of Kigali was informed that I was still alive and hiding at Sainte Famille. With the help of some _gendarmes_ who were stationed at the hotel and whom she knew personally, she managed to get me out to the hotel. Mille Collines was a privileged place, for entrepreneurs and intellectuals. We were told that some of the fugitives had paid huge sums of money to influential men in the military or the leadership of the Hutu militias to escort them to this hotel.

We had TV in our rooms, so we could follow the news and see what was happening around the country. The hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina – recently depicted in the film _Hotel Rwanda_ – worked tirelessly to keep us alive. There were some unsung heroes, like Victor, who owned a bakery in the city centre and risked his life bringing Tutsi to the hotel. Our only drinking water came from the swimming pool. We stored it in the bathtubs of some of the rooms, most of which were being shared by three or four people.

Along with other Tutsi hiding in the Mille Collines, my sister and I were evacuated in the middle of May to an area under RPF control. If it hadn’t been for Paul Rusesabagina and Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, we would never have survived.

The remainder of my family, however, was not so fortunate. They were massacred in late April in Musange, my home commune, in an office building where they had sought refuge at the start of the killings. One of my nieces, who was five years old at the time, was the only member of my family to survive. She later told me that she had received a machete blow and had fallen to the ground. She hid under the corpses and crawled out to hide in the latrine of a nearby Hutu home.

No reconciliation without justice

I still bitterly regret that the world betrayed my people in our hour of need. I am surprised that some powerful countries spent days discussing the best terminology to give to the bloodletting in Rwanda at the UN – countries that had done nothing to stop the genocide. A gigantic coalition was raised to invade Iraq. What was needed to stop the killings in Rwanda was not a big force, just a few thousand.

Rwanda’s major ethnic groups speak the same language, have the same religion and share many of the same customs and traditions. What is painful for me today is that our history has been truncated, trivialized and reduced by many commentators to a simple tale of ancient, visceral, tribal conflict.

This is yet another reason why survivors’ testimonies are so crucial. We have too often been denied the right to narrate the true facts, which we know better than the best historians and political experts, many of whom could not even locate Rwanda on the map. Is it really possible to blame the genocide on inherent ethnic differences between groups of Rwandans, even though this sort of violence was never observed in Rwanda before colonialism?

What is disheartening is the continued targeting of genocide survivors in Rwanda. These murders go on, unreported. The plight of survivors is ongoing. Every day we must fight the deepest emotional and psychological battles imaginable. Sometimes it is difficult to go on living.

Today my fear is that another culture of impunity is being cultivated in post-genocide Rwanda in the guise of reconciliation. Survivors are encouraged to forgive and forget. They are asked to live with some of the neighbours they know participated in the genocide. As long as survivors assume that justice has not been done, prospects for healing the wounds remain bleak.

I cannot forget what happened, and it would be wrong to forget. It is necessary for survivors to tell what they experienced, so that the world understands the nature and magnitude of the violence that engulfed Rwanda throughout the entire second half of the 20th century. When others learn and acknowledge what we lived through, this helps restore some of the humanity that we lost during the days of violence. If the world is willing to listen, this may also help prevent similar tragedies from occurring in other countries.

*Jean Baptiste Kayigamba* is a former Reuters correspondent in Rwanda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He is now a graduate in publishing at the School of Arts and Humanities, Oxford Brookes University and lives in Oxford, England.

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