As far as Aloys Rwamasirabo can recall, it’s been about eight years since a Gacaca court in his Western Province’s Nyange Sector in Karongi District ordered several Genocide convicts to pay him about Rwf3.5 million for destroying his house and looting his cows and furniture during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
However, up to now, the convicts still owe him about Rwf2 million, and his hope of getting the money has been fading.
“Some of them (the convicts) deliberately refused to pay me while others are too poor to pay. It’s not clear how I will get paid unless local officials intervene to force those who are able to pay to do so,” Rwamasirabo told The New Times yesterday.
For those who are too poor to pay, he says, government should employ them on projects that are beneficial to the public and use their earnings to pay Genocide survivors.
Rwamasirabo’s case is one of the 10,762 countrywide where Genocide convicts are yet to pay for the property they looted or destroyed during the Genocide two decades ago.
Officials at the Ministry of Justice estimate the value of property owed to survivors at about Rwf3 billion.
From calls of observers and experts, to reports of lawmakers, and complaints from survivors’ groups, the government is under pressure to execute decisions of Gacaca courts, which compel thousands of convicts to pay back survivors’ property.
According to Naphtal Ahishakiye, executive secretary of Ibuka, the umbrella group of Genocide survivors’ organisations, the government should create a special taskforce in charge of executing Gacaca decisions with regards to paying back property that was looted from Genocide survivors.
Ahishakiye said the taskforce would include officials from institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman, the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, and Rwanda National Police.
“These can work with district officials to solve the problem. We need the payments to be settled so we can move on to other things. Right now we don’t know if people haven’t paid because they are unable to do so or whether they simply don’t want to pay,” he said.
At the 20th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi last year, district officials had vowed to have solved this problem by the time the country marks the following commemoration.
However, more than 10,000 cases remain unsettled about two weeks before Rwandans mark the 21st anniversary of the Genocide.
“Information we have is that these issues were not addressed,” Ahishakiye said.
Senator Jean Damascène Bizimana, the chairperson of the senatorial Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security, said the issue of unsettled payments to Genocide survivors by convicts needs to be addressed, which he said would be a major catalyst for reconciliation between the survivors and perpetrators.
“It’s an issue that needs serious attention,” he told fellow senators on Tuesday after a senatorial report on the justice sector was presented before the Senate.
That issue could be growing bigger, but officials in the Ministry of Justice say they have been planning how to address it.
Of the remaining 10,762 unsettled claims, nearly a half of them (5,298) involve convicts who don’t have a penny to their name to pay back for property they confiscated or destroyed during the Genocide, officials say.
The head of Access to Justice Department at the Ministry of Justice, Odette Yankulije, said it is now top priority for the officials at the ministry to do everything in their power to ensure that Genocide convicts pay back to the survivors.
Yankulije suggested a two-pronged approach that would make that happen: increasing the number of professional court bailiffs from the current 129 to 223 before May as well as enacting a new presidential order determining modalities for execution of community service as alternative penalty to imprisonment.
She said increasing the number of bailiffs will help every Genocide survivor to use services of the bailiff in compelling Genocide convicts to pay back by attaching and auctioning whatever valuable property they may own while the new presidential order would determine how indigent convicts can work in community service projects and their earnings paid to the survivors.
“For those who are able to pay, it won’t take long before they comply, but those who are unable to pay will take time because they will have to work until they get the money,” she said.
The official said a list of all the country’s bailiffs and their contacts will be provided at local government entities down to the village level and local officials will be tasked to sensitise Genocide survivors to use their services to get back what courts awarded them.
“We need to give this issue high priority. By December, we should have done something tangible,” she said.