Friday, April 30, 2010

Rwanda: Genocide survivors still the targets of those who slaughtered their families

Judges at a Gacaca court (file photo)

Sixteen years after the Rwandan genocide, thousands of perpetrators who confessed their roles before the traditional Gacaca Courts have been released and sentenced to community service, but survivors say this is an inadequate punishment.

"The punishment should be [close] to the pain those inmates inflicted," Theodore Simburudali, the chairman of the genocide survivor organization, Ibuka, told IRIN.

He urged the government to do more to stop the killing of genocide survivors in parts of the country.

Ibuka has frequently decried the killing of survivors, most often after testifying against suspects in the courts. Some genocide suspects and convicts, according to the organization, single out the survivors for revenge.

“We need to [implore] Rwandan officials to [see] the seriousness of the issue because genocide survivors are still the targets of those who slaughtered their families, rather than expecting [them] to live in the same community with murderers,” Simburudali added.

At least 106,918 convicts have gone through the programme, referred to as TIG (Travaux d'Intérêt Général), since its inception in 2005, according to the government.

Under Rwandan law certain categories of genocide perpetrators serve part of their prison term in jail with the remainder as community service, in a bid to decongest the prisons and foster reconciliation, say government officials.

"This punishment allows the [perpetrators] to acquire new professional skills that will help facilitate their reintegration into society, as well as to turn them into good citizens," Evariste Bizimana, TIG executive coordinator, told IRIN. "They [the TIG inmates] have been able to learn vocational skills, while building several houses for vulnerable people, many of whom are genocide survivors.”

Under TIG, inmates build houses for vulnerable groups, and community infrastructure such as roads, and are also involved in agricultural activities.

"This programme is part of a reconciliation process as we need to educate those killers who confess their crimes [in order] to live side-by-side with genocide survivors," Bizimana added. “[They] must understand that this is a punishment, not merely a transit camp to be reintegrated into society."

Those sentenced to community service are housed in camps around the country and are not remunerated. Many now show remorse.

Thaddeo Munyansanga, a Hutu who was working in a Tutsi household before 1994 said: "When the killing started, I was told by the [Interahamwe] militia that I would end up owning all my former boss’s belongings.”

Munyansanga’s house was located a short distance from his former boss’s widow, Philomène Uwinyange, in Kibirizi village in the south.

"I regret all that I did, I now hope that Uwinyange will accept my apologies," Munyansanga told IRIN. “I don't want to push her any further to forgive me. It is a matter of time, considering the seriousness of our [actions]."

Uwinyange, 56, takes care of three adopted children – her children were killed in the genocide. “We have no choice [but to] reconcile with those who killed our relatives. What [else] can we do?" she said.

According to Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama, community service is not intended to trivialize the seriousness of the crimes.

“We are trying to foster reconciliation among killers and victims," Karugarama told IRIN. “What is most important is to ensure a follow-up as some of these people still harbour genocide ideology upon returning back to their villages.”

Michael Kanimba, a 21-year-old student in Kigali, whose father was recently sentenced to two years of community service, supported the idea of community service. "Those convicts are slowly turned into responsible citizens to [enable them to] live side by side with genocide survivors,” he said.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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