Compensating survivors: How far have we gone?

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A Flame of Hope in Ngororere District during a commemoration event last year. / File

Denyse Mukeza could look to her current job as a respite, but the scars and losses she incurred 23 years ago remain raw. She is the branch manager of Coojad Bank in Nyamata District and one of the few members of her family who managed to escape from the killers during 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Mukeza lost almost her entire family and their property was either looted or vandalised by the marauding militia. Twenty-three years later, she has not received a penny in compensation.

She has resigned to her fate, saying she would rather forge forward with her life than dwell on the past.

As the country begins the 23rd commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Mukeza’s hope has never been so assured following efforts to reconstruct life after a massacre that claimed her parents and four of her siblings.

Her brief story of the ordeal is that her family’s persecution started way before 1994 and culminated into the tragedy on the evening of April 14, 1994.

Her father was a businessman in Nyamata trading centre and they had since April 7 received several threats from perpetrators who had started killings in other parts of the town.

Her father sought refuge at Kayumba hill, which would later go down in history for the resistance of its people against Interahamwe militia.

He mother and five brothers and sister had sought refuge in Nyamata Parish.

But Mukeza would find herself alone days later as she learnt of sad news about massacres that took place in the parish that claimed the lives of her mother and four siblings.

The resistance at Kayumba hill had also been neutralised by a reinforced group from Gako Military Barracks and her father did not survive.

Mukeza survived with one brother and decided to carry on with life after the mass killings, taking care of the brother with the support of friends and relatives.

She never got to know the killers who had taken the lives of her parents and siblings, hence no way of seeking compensation of property and assets that were destroyed.

“It’s not me alone; there are many others who cannot claim compensation for destroyed property. It is very challenging if you don’t know the perpetrators. We decided to move on and join others in the reconstruction of the nation,” she said.

“My brother and I decided to move on. We rebuilt our house and that is where he is living now. We are all married and have new families, our focus is more about the future, we can’t dwell on the past.”

Mukeza, who also represents a group of Genocide survivors in Nyamata, commended the progress made across the country and pledged to work harder for the sake of her children.

Earlier this year, senators raised the issue of failure or delays in paying reparations to survivors, saying it was a major stumbling block to national unity and reconciliation.

Delayed compensations were mainly due to financial constraints and poor enforcement of judgment.

Magellan Sebatware, the director of good governance at Nyamata District, told The New Times that compensation had been disbursed in many ways; some were compensated through decisions of the now defunct Gacaca courts.

“Compensation began a long time ago. Some former Genocide perpetrators voluntarily decided to pay damages, others could not afford to reimburse the destroyed property and opted to do community services, known as TIG,” he said.

At least 70 per cent of compensation was paid to survivors in Nyamata although some former genocidaires have claimed insolvency.

“In the exercise, we saw some good practice leading to reconciliation and unity, one being an act of seeking and giving forgiveness,” Sebatware said.

The organic law terminating the activities of Gacaca courts, says compensation is paid by the offender or through attaching of their property.

However, convicted offenders who are proven indigent can also engage in community service as an alternative penalty to imprisonment since many offenders accused of looting or destroying property were insolvent.

According to documents from the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, 8,445 cases adjudicated by Gacaca courts have not been executed, in terms of paying reparations to the victims.

The same document also states that 854 court bailiffs have failed to execute compensation judgments; 1,016 cases involved Genocide convicts who deliberately refused to pay damages, while 1,277 cases have incomplete files.