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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Rwanda still searching for justice
By Robert Walker
BBC, Kigali

In Gahengeri in central Rwanda, villagers gather under a tree. It is still early in the morning but the sun is already heating the ground.

The mood is sombre and people speak in hushed tones.

Woman at the Gacaca court
Those who killed are confessing their crimes at village courts
Villagers are about to begin discussing what happened here 10 years ago.

Standing apart from the rest is Simeon Gasana.

Mr Gasana is silent, until I start a conversation with him.

"Here in Gaghengeri, there was too much killing. Neighbours were killing one another. It is even difficult for us to know how many died," he said

Mr Gasana lost everyone in the genocide - his mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters.

Now some of those involved in the killings have come back to the village.

Gacaca courts

Mr Gasana and his neighbours, sitting in a Gacaca - a village-based court - must decide who was responsible.

Who killed, raped or looted during the three months of genocide when about 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were slaughtered across Rwanda.

A pill that is bitter is sometimes the one that heals
Charles Kayitana

Nearby, I meet Jean de Dieu Cyiza.

He is one of those who has confessed to participating in the genocide.

Mr Cyiza tells me he killed five Tutsi children.

"The government soldiers told me to kill them. To save myself I decided to do it. I killed them with a machete," he says.

Gasana listens to the conversation.

Mr Cyiza killed his brother's children.

Mr Gasana's face betrays him a little, he nods at certain points, as if to confirm what Mr Cyiza is saying.

"Cyiza did very wrong things," Mr Gasana says afterwards.

But today, since Mr Cyiza's release from prison, the two men live as neighbours once again.


At the end of the genocide, one of the most urgent problems facing the new government, led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), is how to deal with tens of thousands of Rwandans who had participated in the mass killings.

Court officials records confessions
Some villagers have boycotted the courts
Some of them had been forced to join the militias on pain of death, while others directed the killings.

Jails were crammed with more than 130,000 suspects.

With the justice system destroyed during the carnage, prisoners - guilty and innocent alike - faced years in detention awaiting trial.

Amnesty was not an option given the nature of the crimes but it was clear the formal justice system could not cope either.

Part of the solution has been to set up the Gacaca courts.


More than 20,000 prisoners, who had confessed to involvement in the genocide but who were not ringleaders, were provisionally released at the beginning of last year.

They have now returned to their villages and will be judged in the new village courts.

No one has come here and said I am sorry, I killed your people.
Teresa, Genocide victim
"Most of the perpetrators who have confessed, when they are taken to the communities to tell what they did, they ask for forgiveness," says Fatuma Ndangiza of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission.

Ms Ndangiza believes Gacaca can provide justice for victims and also aid reconciliation.

"Most of the victims want to know how their people died. If the perpetrators are ready to tell them the stories of their dead relatives and tell them where they are, they can bury them in dignity. This is the beginning for healing and reconciliation," said Ms Ndangiza.

'Secret crimes'

But it is a process inevitably fraught with difficulty.

In Gahengeri, Mr Gasana says it was painful when prisoners were released and they returned to the village.

"There were some weeping when they saw men like Cyiza. When they hear the testimonies at the Gacaca they have to leave the meeting. It is too much for them," Mr Gasana says.

Some prisoners confessed to only part of their crimes to secure their release.

And uncovering the whole truth during the Gacaca can be difficult.

Most of the Tutsi survivors did not witness the killings.

They survived because they were well hidden.

And their Hutu neighbours are sometimes reluctant to denounce the killers fearing they may be implicated themselves.

Mr Gasana is not sure whether Cyiza has told all.

"Most of them did not fully confess, they only said what they thought could already be known. Other violent acts are just kept secret," said Mr Gasana.

'Court boycott'

Some villagers do not want to attend the Gacaca hearings.

On the other side of Gahengeri, I found Teresa sitting alone in her small house.

She lost her parents and four brothers and sisters during the genocide - some of them killed by her own neighbours.

A key part of the Gacaca process is that released prisoners must ask forgiveness for crimes like these.

But Teresa questions how real their repentance is.

"No one has come here and said I am sorry, I killed your people. If at least one could come and beg forgiveness and confess, really I would pardon him. But no one has come," said Teresa.

Slow justice

The Gacaca trials have been slow to get off the ground, partly because of the sheer numbers of suspects involved.

Only a pilot phase has so far been implemented.

One year on, most released prisoners are yet to begin their trials.

Some survivors of the genocide - living again next to those who joined the killing - question the pace of this justice.

"I think Gacaca does not ease tensions in the beginning. It increases them. Who likes to be pointed out as a killer?" says Klaas de Jonge, of Penal Reform International, who is co-ordinating a research project assessing the effectiveness of the Gacaca courts.

Mr Da Jonge says for the family perhaps they did not even know it, for the man himself it is difficult.

That, he says, gives a lot of tension in the beginning between the population and the genocide survivors.

Whatever the challenges facing the Gacaca courts, the government believes they are still the best solution if the massive backlog of genocide suspects are to be dealt with.

Charles Kayitana, of the Gacaca Commission, says as far as the government is concerned, there is no alternative.

"To participate in Gacaca and to accept to reconcile, you have to accept the bitterness of it because tolerating someone who killed your people is a serious pill to swallow. And we believe a pill that is bitter is sometimes the one that heals," says Mr Kayitana.

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