Rwanda, 19 years after the genocide

Lucie Goulet

The Ndera hospitals treats victims of the genocide (photo: Swissinfo)

The Ndera hospitals treats victims of the genocide (photo: Swissinfo)

Rwanda commemorated the victims of its genocide last month. 7 April marked 19 years since the first 7 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutu politicians were killed by Hutu gunmen on the first day of the genocide. Over the following 100 days, an estimated 800 000 Rwandans were slaughtered, not counting the individuals who died of diseases in refugee camps.

Since then, the Rwanda government as well as foreign states including the United-States and international organisations have put in place schemes aiming to answer their 1994 promise of “never again”.

However, these initiatives lead to further divisions. The current consensus in Rwanda is that despite the attempts of the justice system and flawed laws against genocide ideology, the country is still divided, in a state of trauma and new atrocities could happen again.

France announced earlier this month that it would bring to trial for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan army captain arrested in 2008, a typical example of how slow justice has been.

In a 2004 interview with US TV show Frontline PBS, Helena Cobban, expert on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) suggested that this slowness was the direct result of the ICTR attorney’s actions because “a large proportion of the people who are doing the work there realise it’s a kind of gravy train”.

Similar accusations were raised this March against the Human Rights Watch (HRW) by the former US diplomat Richard Johnson, alleging that the HRW’s Rwanda program was first and foremost about ensuring the good conscience of Western humanitarians. He argues that the NGO’s program in the country has been so biased towards the Hutus coming back from exile that it has led to divisive advice to foreign states.

Justice hasn’t just been slow, it has also been tainted by accusations of being one-sided. Simbikangwa will be tried in France rather than being extradited to Rwanda, where the French authorities believe he wouldn’t get a fair trial.

The ICTR was set up outside Rwanda so that its three initial chief prosecutors, Richard Goldstone, Louise Arbor and Carla Del Ponte could also trial members of the ruling Tutsi government is they were suspected of war crimes or crime against humanity, something Cobban argues “there is some fairly credible evidence for”.

However, in 2003, the ICTR, following pressures by the Kagame and US governments appointed “its own chief prosecutor, and he is thought to be somebody who is not going to pursue this idea of what are called “special investigations””, lamented Cobban.

The limitation of justice is one of the reasons why Rwanda hasn’t been able to heal its scars yet. Some culprits have yet to be apprehended or are being left free across the country.

President Paul Kagame, credited with ending the genocide in July 1994, has been running a policy of national reconciliation thanks to which many Hutus génocidaires (genocide perpetrators) came back from abroad and have been allowed to live freely, sometimes close to their victims’ families.

In 2009, The Economist reported the case of Freddy Mutanguha, the manager of the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre who had to live right next to “two known killers being fed and protected by the Rwandan government” after years in exile in Congo. Mutanguha preferred changing home than having these men for neighbours.

Children are particularly affected by the consequences of genocide. They are fighting more than the trauma of knowing their entire family was slaughtered.

UNICEF estimates that a twelfth of the population is made up of orphans. Many were born as a result of rape, which was used as another genocide tool by the Interahamwe Hutu paramilitary organisation. According to Rene Degni-Segui, UN Special Raporteur on Rwanda, between 250 000 and 500 000 females of all ages were raped between April and July 1994. Rape as well as genital mutilations were a way to prevent Tutsi women from having Tutsi children, a consequence still felt 20 years later.

The collective trauma is such that children born years after the end of the genocide “present symptoms of post-traumatic stress. They cannot bear to hear the stories told by older people”, explained Jean-Michel Lyamuremye, the medical director of the Ndera psychiatric hospital to Swissinfo.ch.

“A lot of survivors are still fighting to get their properties back” explains Jacqueline Murekatete in an interview with The Africa Report. She was 9 year-old in 1994 and, after being adopted by an American uncle, founded the NGO MCW Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner. The Rwandan government estimates that as many as 40 000 survivors have yet to get their house back.

In a country where Tutsis represent 14% of the population, against 85% for the Hutus, every new law has a potentially divisive aspect.

The introduction of English as an official language alongside Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili and French in 2008 was seen as a move favouring the Tutsis since a significant percentage of the minority grew up abroad and learnt English after the genocide.

With the official aim of ending these divisions, Kagame introduced laws against the apology of genocide ideology and sectarianism.

The 2008 genocide ideology law resulted in the imprisonment of at least two journalists from the Umurabyo newspaper, Agnes Nkusi Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi. Amongst other counts, the verdict accused them of genocide ideology and divisionism, charges ridiculed by Amnesty International.

Kagame opponents also accused him of using the law to silence the opposition during the 2010 elections. In a feature published shortly before the election, Sarah Childress of the Wall Street Journal reports the case of Bernard Ntaganda, who after creating opposition party PS-Imberakuri was accused of ethnically divisive ideology.

Although rejected by the Kagame government, the heavy criticism against the law within Rwanda and from human rights organisations lead to its revision in 2012. According to the then Justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama, the amended law was meant to “define clearly constitutive elements of offences” such as the vague crimes of “marginalising, boasting, despising and stirring up ill feelings”, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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