A call for prior sensitisation on release of Genocide convicts

A convicted Genocide perpetrator (left) and survivor embrace during a confession-and-forgiveness event in Kayonza District in October 2017. File.

With Genocide convicts increasingly completing their sentences, and subsequently set free, there is need for greater sensitisation of the general public, especially survivors, on how to relate with freed convicts once the latter have arrived back in their respective communities, Ibuka has said. 

Ibuka is the umbrella of the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in which over one million people were killed.

According to Rwanda Correction Service (RCS), 3-5 Genocide perpetrators are released on a daily basis after completing their jail terms.

Of the over 120,000 people who were jailed for their role in the Genocide, some 27,000 remain in prison but most of them are set to be freed over the next two years after serving out their terms, SSP Hillary Sengabo, the spokesperson for RCS, told Saturday Times  on Thursday.

However, Ibuka is of the view that, while it’s to be expected that a convict will always return to their home area after completing their sentence, there is need to prepare survivors and other residents in advance.

“There is need to reassure survivors beforehand,” Naphtali Ahishakiye, Ibuka executive secretary, said Thursday.

He said RCS needs to work more closely with local government authorities to ensure seamless reintegration of former convicts.

“It should not be happening haphazardly, there is need for a careful, inclusive plan of communication and engagement so that those arriving back in their communities across the country do not surprise their families, survivors and other residents,” he said.

That, he said, should reassure survivors that the arrival of their former tormentors does not constitute a threat to their security.

Asked to comment about this concern, CGP George Rwigamba, the RCS Commissioner General, said they normally engage soon-to-be-free inmates to send letters to their villages, particularly to survivors, reassuring them that they were now reformed citizens.

Some of the inmates ask for forgiveness and reveal vital information that could help reassure survivors and their families, including tips on the whereabouts of the remains of victims.

But RCS’ contribution in this effort stops at engaging prisoners, Rwigamba said. “Our responsibility ends at the exit of correction centres,” he said.

A communications officer at the Ministry of Local Government said the role of ensuring smooth integration of former convicts is played by districts and sectors.

Drocelle Mukashema, the Vice Mayor in charge of Social Affairs in Karongi District, Western Province, said they prepare the public for the impending release of convicts in general.

“RCS should probably be informing districts or other local authorities about the inmates that are about to be released,” she told this newspaper on Friday.

Ahishakiye also expressed concern that some of the released convicts have not fully reformed, saying that it’s mostly such people that later get involved with perpetuating genocide ideology and denial.

Retired Bishop John Rucyahana, the president at National Unity and Reconciliation (NURC), also underlined the importance of preparing both the perpetrators and survivors ahead of such releases.

If the transition is not managed properly, he said, it could cause trauma especially on the part of survivors.

But he said that, while cases of genocide ideology involving former inmates have manifested from time to time, they are at a minimal level.

“In general, convicts are released when they are already reformed,” he said, adding that those that later deny the same crime they committed, or seek to minimise it, are the very few.

He also called for support to former convicts to help them reintegrate seamlessly in the community, considering many of them have been behind bars for over two decades.

Some of them are rejected by their own children after release, Rucyahana said. “Survivors also fear them because of what they saw them doing in 1994.”

But managing this transition is something no one can do on their own, he said. “It’s a collective responsibility; the whole community has a role to play to manage this situation.”

Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye said government continuously sensitises inmates on how best they can integrate in the community once they have been released. 

“There are different ways of doing this, including through ‘prison fellowships’ where they meet with survivors and ask for forgiveness,” Busingye said during a visit to Rubavu Prison earlier this month.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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