Frontline World

RWANDA - After the Genocide, December 2003
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
7/3/03 7/7/03 7/11/03 7/15/03 7/19/03 7/19/03 7/20/03 7/23/03
7/7/03 Bureaucrats, soccer and skulls pacifique mukeshima Domina Nyirandayambaje Aloys Habimana
doug merlino's permission form
My observer's pass for the gacaca trials.
A short email to update you on what's going on here. Things have been crazy, so I had to find time to duck into an Internet place to get this off to you. It has been pretty mind-bending so far.

This is the type of place where you are sitting and chatting with a drunk college student and his buddies in a shanty bar when he mentions that both his parents were killed in the 1994 genocide and that he couldn't speak at all, as a result, for years afterward. You get off the plane in the morning and end up feasting and dancing to Congolese music in the home of rich Rwandans the same night.

You might go to a couple of genocide memorials in the morning and hear sickening stories from survivor caretakers and later the same night end up sitting 60 feet away from the president, Paul Kagame, at a soccer match. The Rwandan team is playing Ghana, and when Rwanda wins, thousands of people charge the field and sing and dance in front of the president. Kagame waves his arms while a military band marches through the crowd.

Skulls stacked on shelves at the Nyamata genocide memorial.
The most important news today is that, after six hours of toadying up to Rwandan bureaucrats, I got the permissions I need to observe the gacacas. It wasn't pleasant, but I'm damn lucky to have spent only one day on getting them. I was a bit worried about it, especially after a documentary filmmaker who has worked here told me that I might spend my whole three weeks mired in government bureaucracy.

The genocide memorials I went to yesterday -- Ntarama and Nyamata -- are only a couple miles apart, about an hour from Kigali along a bumpy red dirt road. Both are former Catholic churches where people sought refuge during the genocide. Instead of sheltering people, the churches served as slaughterhouses where killers massacred thousands.

Rwanda's Neighborhood
United Nations Involvement
Root of Hutu/Tutsi Tension
Rwandan Civil War, 1990-1994
Rwanda's 1994 Genocide
Rwandan Patriotic Front
Paul Kagame
At Ntarama, the corpses -- now just bones -- still lay where they fell. At Nyamata, the other memorial, the bones have been sorted and stacked on shelves in a couple of musty crypts.

By early next week, I'll be outside Kigali with my own translator. The government has just let 20,000 prisoners out on provisional release. Most of these prisoners have confessed to committing crimes during the genocide. (Those who are old, ill or were very young during the genocide were also released.)

These prisoners have all attended reeducation camps, and they will have to go through the gacaca process and probably have to perform some community service. The prisoners are living back in the communities where they committed their crimes. I'd like to go into the countryside and find some of these guys, interview them, then speak to the families of their victims.

There's one major hiccough about my permission to observe gacacas: Journalists are not allowed to photograph, record or take notes during them. I guess that you're supposed to remember what happens during these six-hour sessions and write it all down afterward! I haven't gotten a good explanation for this rule. Charles, the pedantic bureaucrat who gave me the permissions, blamed it on another department of the government. Still, I'm excited to be ready to go out and finally see these courts in operation.

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