For many survivors of genocide the wounds both physical and mental are still fresh; theirs is a life where remembrance is a daily event.
My friends father survived being hacked by machetes but was left crippled and still suffers pain from nerve damage; like many, he dulls his pain with alcohol.
The struggle for reconciliation will be long and hard; we are by no means there but we have made an honourable attempt at trying. Reconciliation can mean “the ending of conflict or renewing of a friendly relationship between disputing people or groups” and this we have done but there is another definition “the making of two or more apparently conflicting things consistent or compatible” and this is the choice between the rights of the survivors and the rights of the accused.
This week saw Rwandans in the UK commemorate the 15th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi; during this same week, on the 7th April, a judge ruled that 4 men accused of genocide could not be returned to Rwanda to face justice.
Emmanuel Nteziryayo, Charles Munyaneza, Vincent Bagyina and another accused were released from custody saying that “they did not dispute the quantity or quality of the prosecution evidence that they had committed heinous crimes in their country, there was a real risk of that the four would not receive a fair trial in Rwanda.”
Rwanda has done all it can to reform its justice system in order to reach the high standards of the Western world, we have abolished the death penalty and built modern facilities to house suspected killers, when some survivors are homeless.
UK has no problem extraditing suspects to America, which has a death penalty but cannot deport them to Rwanda which does not. Has any UK judge come to Rwanda to see whether our justice system is good enough?
I know the answer is no; they have merely read the reports by various biased human rights organisation. This ruling is a sad reflection on the Home Office’s current woes; the Home Affairs Minister is embroiled in her own scandals and appears to have lost control of her department for she would have tried to stop this ruling happening on a day when we sombrely reflect on nearly 1 million dead.
Reconciliation requires truth and justice; the small players who were misled into killing their neighbours have been mostly dealt with by the Gacaca system but the masterminds behind this crime against humanity have had it too good.
The masterminds enjoy all the trappings of the Western world and the luxury of the ICTR system which has spent $2 billion prosecuting 40 people and that is $50 million per suspect.
The Gacaca system, while far from perfect, has its advantages particularly in terms in reconciliation. Restorative justice is different from punitive justice; its main object is to restore relations and harmony rather than punish.
The victim wants to be heard; the accused wants to ask for forgiveness and society wants to close a dark chapter. In Northern Uganda where the LRA terrorised a whole generation of Acholi, they have used tribal customs to resolve issues; often when a former child soldier who killed his own returns, he is washed from head to toe by the family he wronged.
The washing is both symbolic and literal his/her crimes are washed clean and they start with a clean slate. There is a saying that “holding on to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping that your enemy will die” it only destroys the one who holds it.
When I look at people like, singer Samputu, I cannot help but admire their courage in reconciling with their enemies and I pray that I would have they courage to do the same.
The people I lost in genocide were distant to me as I grew up outside Rwanda, my family had not seen these relatives in 30 years but it hurts none the less.
One of the most moving stories was what happened to a friend of mine; he was a soldier in the RPF who returned to his village to find his entire family slain.
The whole village denied any knowledge of the matter and protected the killers, but such secrets never stay hidden for long and word got out who the culprits were.
The ringleader was arrested returning from Congo and my friend patiently waited for his chance. When my friend was demobilised he sought a way to avenge his family’s death; he found a way to access the prison and an accomplice helped send him to a quiet area.
When the ringleader saw him he smiled “I have been waiting for this day, I thought you’d never come, I just want to tell you that there were brave to the end and they never begged for mercy. I know what you have come to do, we have to make it look believable, get a knife so it looks like I was trying to stab you and hit me with an axe, remember it has to be a clean shot.”
My friend broke down and cried, the killer wanted a way out of his own trauma; our culture forbids suicide and he wanted death and restorative justice in the Hammurabi code of “an eye for an eye.”
My friend walked out as the killer was taunting him to anger “I killed your family, raped your mother, you can’t leave me, I must die.”
Revenge never brings back the dead, it only creates another cycle of hate that has to be avenged; an eye for an eye and the world will soon be blind.
We need reconciliation but we need justice for the victims, we need to prosecute the major culprits not the small fry who killed in some cases to steal property or to settle personal scores.
If only that $2 billion was spent on helping Rwanda build an efficient justice system, or helping survivors, widows and orphans. Then there is the personal reconciliation between neighbours that often takes time but healing will come in the end.
My friend resents the neighbours who remained silent as his family were killed, the neighbours feel a sense of guilt but were too fearful to speak out, and so there is a deafening silence and lack of trust.
It is then that you realise the reason for the mass-indoctrination of RTLM; it was not to incite hatred but to incite indifference, for the militias were already trained and ready to kill but they needed to break down trust and kinship first, so neighbours could stand by and do nothing while childhood friends died.
That trust we lost will only regained from open dialogue about the genocide, not on a national or political level but person to person. As this sombre week of reflection comes to an end, it teaches us to value the important things in life.
Love, life, family, good neighbourliness, trust and understanding are all things we take for granted but these were the biggest casualties of the genocide. When we say never again, it must mean never again.