Rwandans: a reeducation in how to live together
The effort plays out in local courts as well as camps that teach the culture of a 'new' Rwanda.
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The country officially banned the ethnic labels "Hutu" and "Tutsi" five years ago, but observers say the legacy of genocide isn't as easily overcome, and suspicions between groups linger. Confessed genocidaires have returned from prison, and former members of a Hutu militia have come home after fighting in Congo. Amid these returnees, Tutsi survivors have come forward to testify before local courts, called gacaca, about who killed whom. Considered a civic duty, testifying can be risky: In recent years, 17 survivors were killed, including one gacaca judge, in what survivors fear are acts of reprisal for bearing witness. Still, most find ways to accept, if not welcome, returning Hutus.Skip to next paragraph
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"I give a lot of credit to survivors that, rather than seek vengeance, are finding ways to come together with their former neighbors," says Mr. Longman, who has been working in Rwanda for more than 20 years. "Survivors really are the group taking the lead in reconciliation."
The search for justice
"When you give testimony, and he gets out, at some point you are scared," Ms. Uwimana says. She and her 80-year-old mother live alone in a small house near Rwanda's capital, Kigali; Uwimana's husband died just before the genocide, and her son goes to school about an hour-and- a-half away. If she were to face any danger, she would face it alone.
"Me, I'm not scared," she insists. "I trust God to protect me. I didn't lie about what he did. And he accepted it."
"He" is the man who shot her. He was with the militias who came to her home, forced her and 10 family members outside, shot them, and threw them into a makeshift mass grave. Uwimana, and her mother and sister, managed to survive and crawl out of the grave, but she doesn't remember anything else about her survival.
Last fall, at gacaca, Uwimana recounted the story before the nine inyangamugayo, or "persons of integrity," who oversee the trials. Gacaca courts adapt a traditional dispute-resolution mechanism that Rwandans used before the country was colonized by Belgium.
Before, the inyangamugayo were respected village elders; these days, they're elected by the community, their backgrounds vigorously investigated. Roughly 40,000 elected judges were dismissed for crimes as minor as small property infractions and for any hint of connection to genocide.
After several years of pilot trials, gacaca started nationwide in 2006, with over 12,000 courts meeting every week until just last month. The elected inyangamugayo effectively served as both judges and jury, listening to witnesses and rendering a sentence. They were also de facto lawyers, rigorously questioning everyone who testifies before opening the floor to the community to do the same.
The process has not been without its critics. Human rights groups have objected to the lack of legal representation for the accused, who are tried in abstentia if they repeatedly fail to fulfill their summons. Some experts even raise concern about the scope of gacaca jursdiction, which does not include crimes alleged to have been committed by the Rwandan Patriot Front, the former rebel forces led by President Kagame and credited with ending the genocide.
"Gacaca has focused on even the most minute property crimes that were committed by Hutu against Tutsi," says Longman. "The problem is that there has been very little justice on the flip side of that; that is, there's been almost no accountability for RPF crimes against Hutu."
But Stephen Kinzer, author of the Kagame biography "A Thousand Hills," says gacaca has been necessarily limited from the outset by its dual purposes.