CONTACT students visit a TIG (Travaux Interet Generale, or “Work in the General Interest”) camp, where those who have confessed to genocide crimes may perform community service instead of serving prison sentences.
One of the more remarkable testimonies we heard was from a young man who joined the Hutu militias in the Congo in the late ’90’s and participated in attacks that included rape and plunder on Rwandan villages. On one of these raids he was severely wounded by Rwandan government soldiers. To his great surprise, rather than being killed, he was treated in a Rwandan hospital and then sent to a demobilization camp. After returning to his village, he decided to participate in a local reconciliation training led by Karuna Center’s long-term partner ProFemme, a national network of women’s organizations. The experience dramatically changed his outlook, and he in turn now co-leads reconciliation trainings together with survivors.
We witnessed post-genocide work on many levels. We heard from a panel of survivors working with the Quaker-led Friends Peace House on a trauma healing program (which Adin helped to develop) that engages survivors and perpetrators together, recognizing that all were emotionally wounded by the violence. We also held a dialogue with staff at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre who teach the history of the genocide to high school students of mixed ethnicity.
We met with the Women’s parliamentary caucus on the gains and remaining challenges for Rwandan women (at 57%, Rwanda now leads the world for the highest number of women parliamentarians)—and the Rwandan Men’s Resource Center, which leads trainings on positive images of Rwandan manhood. We also talked with staff of Radio La Benevolencija, an NGO that leads radio soap operas with a theme of reconciliation and has a listenership of over 90% of Rwandans (and with which Adin consults). Yet more of our community visits are detailed in SIT’s blog about the trip.
We were surprised with a rare opportunity to witness a Gacaca trial relating to the 1994 genocide. Though Gacaca trials have been drawing to a close, we were invited to attend an appeal. The Gacaca trials are a system of community justice, inspired by traditional methods, in which perpetrators of the genocide are tried within the communities where the crimes were committed. Those who confess receive reduced sentencing. One of the CONTACT Graduate Certificate students in our group, Derek Miodownik, wrote up his impressions of the Gacaca process he witnessed:
The judges took their seats behind a table at the front of the room and put on sashes that said Inyangamugayo, meaning “Person of Integrity.” The process seemed to follow a loose structure whereby the judges first took testimony and asked clarifying questions of witnesses from which they derived questions for Bertrand, and his responses would often be refuted by either the witness or anyone else who claimed to have pertinent and contradictory information. Once all the listed witnesses had been deposed, the floor was open for anyone else who wanted to come forward with information, and this same clarifying and questioning process ensued. This discovery phase often turned up names of other people who were not present at the hearing, but who could provide critical testimony if summonsed.
The site of the hearing on the second day was under a large tree at the base of a slope where it flattened out to meet the road. By the time we arrived many villagers had already assembled, and it was then that I truly understood why it was called Gacaca (Grass) Court.
The second day of the hearing brought new witnesses, and the questions from the judges got increasingly detailed and investigatory. They would hone in on questions such as, “What did you buy at the store?”, “What time were you there?”, “What were you carrying?”, and the responses would spark many doubtful snickers for community members in attendance. Once again, the judges’ highly investigatory approach led to new names and details being surfaced, and, accordingly, new summonses issued for another session.
The third day of the hearing brought additional witnesses who contended that they did not see Bertrand at the roadblock or participating in any of the violent attacks that occurred there as Tutsis tried to flee and take shelter outside the village. The day was marked by more sounds of disbelief or contempt among those present, with several community members becoming visibly shaken and upset. Bertrand was given a final chance to make a statement and delivered an impassioned insistence of his innocence.
I heard it remarked several times that the genocide happened in broad daylight, so people must have seen what happened. This notion that the truth is discoverable through the pooled knowledge that inherently exists in communities seems to drive the Gacaca Court process. While so many people perished, there are still survivors who bore witness, or know someone who did, or carry pieces of critical information. And in much the same way that the Gacaca Court judges piece together their cases question by question, the Gacaca Court process itself has seemingly pieced together the fractured image of Rwanda, relationship by relationship.
This is the reason I lead this trip to Rwanda. Out of the most horrific violence, Rwandan people have developed new methodologies for transforming conflict and promoting healing and reconciliation. While many justifiably criticize the lacks in open political space and freedom of the press and there is undeniably a long way to go, we have much to learn from what is happening in Rwandan communities.