Leaning against a ladder frame, occasionally moving his left hand over his head and staring into the distance, Jean Marie Vianney Higiro is a man clearly on the edge. And with good reason.
The 56 year old father of four is serving a four-year sentence in community service, alongside more than 250 other confessed perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis.
He is considered an accomplice to murder for witnessing the killing of a Tutsi victim. He says he should have tried to save the victim’s life but had orders from the government of the day to participate in the killings.
“We were warned by the government (of assassinated Juvenal Habyarimana) that if we didn’t participate in the killings, we would be fined or killed.” Higiro confessed.
The Government of Rwanda is facing the huge challenge of both punishing the perpetrators of genocide and promoting reconciliation simultaneously.
It is this spirit of reconciliation that Higiro is benefiting from TIG (Travaux de Interets General) instead of languishing in prison. His confession to his crime has helped restore good relations with genocide survivors some of whom commute from their homes and others from camps to work on agricultural projects, quarries and also build houses and roads.
Jean Pierre Nshimiyimana, Executive Secretary of Nyamagabe district, where a TIG camp is located, says the convicts are taught new skills and sensitised about the ills of genocide ideologies.
“These men are absolved of their crimes because they have accepted what they did and people in their communities accept them back too,” Nshimiyimana said at a ceremony to promote unity and reconciliation.
He pointed out that those participating in TIG can work together and live side-by-side with their own communities; knowing that they have confessed and have served their sentences.
Jean Marie Vianne Rutaganda, coordinator of a TIG camp in Nyabikenke, Gasabo District says that, normally someone who kills is either killed or sentenced to something heavier than serving in the community but that is not the case with TIG.
“If you tell a survivour how his or her beloved ones were killed and where the body was thrown, they will exhum and give it a decent burial,” says Rutaganda, adding that it also eases tension from convicts and makes them feel better as well.
According to Rutaganda, when (these former convicts) look at themselves today and consider the crimes they committed, they feel grateful for what the government is doing for them.
“In fact they are happy to do TIG because they know it is their duty”.
In this particular camp of 1,849 convicts, 63 of them are women. They are participating in various projects. The most recent one was the planting of trees on a 48-hectres plot along the Remera-Kabuga highway and making hydraform bricks for construction of houses, for those orphaned during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
According to Rutaganda, who has already worked as the TIG director at another camp in Rutunga, Gasabo district, the country at large is benefiting from TIG.
“The same strength that they used to destroy lives in the dark days of 1994 are now being harnessed in building the society; we should all be brave enough to forgive them,” Rutaganda appealed.
Well, another day has come to an end and Jean-Marie Vianney Higiro is slowly walking down the dirt road towards his sleeping quarters. Though exhausted, he is hopeful, for each passing day brings him one step closer to going back home and being fully reintegrated into society.