Survivors and post-genocide justice in Rwanda: Their experiences, perspectives and hopes



Survivors and Post-Genocide Justice in Rwanda: Their Experiences, Perspectives and Hopes was written to give voice to survivors' perceptions of justice in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda. Their views, varied as they are, have important implications for the success of justice, whether in gacaca courts, domestic trials or international prosecutions, for reconciliation and for society at large.

Almost fifteen years have passed since the genocide of 1994 in which up to one million mainly Tutsi men, women and children were massacred and which left behind countless orphans, widows and severely handicapped and traumatised individuals. Immense personal losses are compounded by the virtual destruction of their wider community. The human, economic and social consequences of the genocide continue to affect them all, and it is impossible for them to look at justice in isolation from the reasons they have come to be known as survivors. With time, the breadth and depth of their losses and bereavement has become more apparent, particularly with regard to those who were young at the time. Unlike other victims of state-orchestrated genocidal violence, survivors in Rwanda live in unique circumstances in that they must mingle with, and live next door to, the people who sought to exterminate them so recently. This reality introduces layers of complexity and sensitivity that are difficult to comprehend, let alone disentangle, and makes justice in Rwanda a daunting task. The genocide casts a long and profound shadow over all aspects of life in Rwanda, and this necessarily helps to shape if and how people engage with justice.

In many ways, post genocide Rwanda has become a laboratory for multiple justice "experiments" both national and international. To some extent this is laudable; a crime against humanity, on the scale and in the particular circumstances of Rwanda in 1994 was unprecedented and it was essential to develop appropriate judicial responses in the national and international spheres. Justice was necessary to acknowledge the massive atrocities that had been committed; to restore a sense of security within the country; and to establish the rule of law after the decades of impunity which had greatly facilitated the massacres. It was vital to curb the persistent genocidal ambitions of perpetrators who continued to target Tutsis from their bases in exile, and to deny their crimes. Equally, innovative approaches to the delivery of justice were required to deal appropriately with the massive numbers of arrests which started at the end of the genocide in July 1994. Justice was also necessary to restore dignity to survivors and to honour the memories of the dead.

The degree to which it can be said that these "experiments" were successful or not depends largely on the parameters used to define success and who is defining and evaluating them. The goals of the various justice initiatives employed in the context of post-genocide Rwanda have differed significantly. The United Nations Security Council and the international community sought to reassert the legitimacy of the international legal order. They had an obligation to uphold the principles embodied in the 1948 Genocide Convention with regard to punishment, having failed in their duty to act to prevent the atrocities. In a general sense the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was also set up to contribute to the process of national reconciliation in Rwanda and to the maintenance of peace in the region and also to counter negative sentiments about the international community's inaction in the face of the genocide. More recently, the few countries like Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, the UK, the US, Finland, The Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand which have sought to investigate and prosecute genocide suspects found on their territories were concerned about the political implications of being seen as providing a safe haven for genocide suspects.

International priorities diverged from those of the Rwandan Government, which faced unique challenges in the post genocide context. Within a few years, there were more than 100,000 genocide suspects detained in overcrowded prison cells, and others in exile in neighbouring countries or living side by side with survivors of the genocide. The Government pursued sometimes incompatible goals with limited resources. Its attempt to deliver accountability, re-establish security, and elicit confessions through the Organic Law on genocide prosecutions of 1996 proved unworkable. In introducing gacaca it sought to expedite justice in order to decongest the prisons, promote social harmony and reconciliation, and move the country beyond the genocide.

Some of the limitations of these parallel, sometimes competing, domestic and international tribunals, have already been identified from the perspective of international law or human rights. Flaws in the administration of justice are not surprising, given the limited time and resources the international community was, and continues to be, willing to expend and the legal, institutional and structural weaknesses within Rwanda. Yet rarely, either in the development of these projects or in evaluations of them, have the views of survivors been directly called upon. This report offers new insights which bring into question the meaning of justice after genocide. The research looks at the various objectives of the policy makers from the viewpoint of the survivors of the genocide. It asks them what they think justice is, or should be? It considers whether they regard "justice" as an appropriate or central objective? Does it resonate with their daily experiences, and if so how? What does it mean for survivors to be asked to move beyond the genocide? Is this indeed possible? The views and perspectives of survivors were not given adequate consideration by governments and international policy makers to premise their justice experiments. In the Rwandan context, justice has never been an area over which victims have felt ownership or real engagement; if anything they have been and continue to be the silent and largely passive observers of this abstract notion called justice, despite the direct impact its decisions have on their daily lives, their peace of mind, their ability to conceive of plans for the future, and their sense of responsibility to the people they loved and lost in the genocide.

Survivors and Post-Genocide Justice in Rwanda starts by looking at the numerous risks that survivors take when deciding to actively participate in justice processes - when revealing what they know to investigators, testifying in court and before their communities. There are strong incentives for survivors to remain silent. These incentives are explored as well as the rationales of those who took the decision to speak out and the consequences which resulted. It then considers survivors' experiences with the different justice processes - the ordinary court system in Rwanda, the gacaca courts, the Arusha Tribunal as well as the limited experiences that survivors have had with trials taking place in foreign countries.

The survey considers survivors' hopes and aspirations about justice and the justice process which are often far removed from the goals identified above that characterised the establishment of the various justice systems in place today. It analyses the physical threats survivors have endured in their communities from suspects and their families as well as the responses to such threats. It outlines the trauma and despair that is intertwined with survivors' experiences of justice as well as the hope and sense of satisfaction that has very occasionally resulted. It catalogues the variety of misuses and abuses that have frequently framed the justice experience, including corruption and abuse of power by some officials. The report explores the changes that have occurred in survivors' perspectives of justice as a result of their direct experiences and the implications these changing views have on longer term prospects for reconciliation and social harmony. Survivors and Post-Genocide Justice in Rwanda concludes by offering a number of recommendations to the various national and international actors involved in the different justice processes.