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
7/19/03 A Devastated Village pacifique mukeshima Domina Nyirandayambaje Aloys Habimana
a gacaca judge
Odette Dusabemariya, president of the Ruvumba gacaca, stands in her doorway with her legal manuals.
The village we reached -- called Ruvumba -- is about 55 miles from Kigali, but it seems much further removed from the capital. It's nothing more than a bunch of huts scattered near a path amongst fields of sorghum and banana trees.

According to figures tabulated from the local gacaca session, the village now has 700 or so people. Of 220 Tutsis alive at the beginning of the genocide in 1994, 186 were killed -- 84 percent. As horrifying as these numbers are, they're par for the course across the country.

The Ruvumba gacaca -- which consisted mainly of people sitting out in the sun or under umbrellas on a mound of dirt -- started about an hour after we arrived. The judges were trying to determine who looted what from whom. This is a painstaking process because the majority of the villagers (about 85 percent according to the gacaca president) looted something from someone during that period.

two boys on the village road
The village of Ruvumba.
The Ruvumba gacaca got going back in November 2002. It has already produced lists of who was killed and categorized the crimes of those who participated in the genocide. Those files have been passed on to the Rwanda Supreme Court. Murder cases will be tried at district level gacaca courts.

The village leader kicked things off by standing up to admit that he himself had looted roof tiles. He urged other villagers to confess their crimes. Finally, a man stood up and admitted to taking some benches. He named his accomplices, one of whom protested fiercely. It went like this, hut by hut, trying to figure out what had happened to the possessions of the dead.

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
When the gacaca came to consider the house of one dead woman, a man stood up to protest. He said that the deceased was crazy and it was a waste of time to talk about her. The head of the gacaca -- a middle-aged woman -- became incensed. She told Joseph to stop translating for me and accused the man of denying that the genocide had occurred. She said, further, that he'd embarrassed the village in front of a foreigner who might go back to the U.S. and report that Rwandans aren't sorry for the genocide.

Since denying that the genocide took place and threatening the court are both crimes, the judges adjourned to discuss what to do with the man who had spoken out. When the judges returned, the man was suddenly extremely contrite. Head hanging, he apologized for what he'd said. The judges told him that they would make their decision about his transgressions later. (Joseph thought they didn't want to make any rulings in front of me.)

The gacaca went on in this vein for about three hours. The villagers looked pretty bored. At the beginning, the village leader had given a speech exhorting everyone to show up and threatening to fine them if they didn't (which is supposedly against the gacaca rules). I thought it was understandable that people don't want to turn up every week, sit through long speeches, then see if it's their turn to be accused of looting or participating in the genocide.

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