After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, trials of genocidaires led to an increased number of prisoners. To manage the problem of overcrowded prisons, Gacaca Courts initiated TIG and drastically decreased the number of prisoners.
TIG is a Rwandan program allowing people found guilty of participating in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, to serve all or part of their sentences doing community service. TIG, “Travail d’Intérêt Général,” is a French acronym that means “works of general service.”
Though the initiative has achieved enormous success, it was criticized by those who wanted to see the prisoners behind bars.
It’s important to examine the impact of prisons on criminals; on whether they come out of prisons reformed. The answer is yes and no, however the latter takes an upper hand.
“There are many genocide criminals who were sent back to prison after committing the same crimes as soon as they were released. It is true that some have changed, but we have those whose stay in prison for long has made no difference,” said Richard Karasira, a Gacaca lawyer in Rwamagana District, Eastern province.
Nevertheless, there must be punishment to enable the society to move on. What must be ingrained in our minds is that we cannot rely on one kind of punishment to justify the crimes committed during the genocide.
Rwanda thus chose rightly to have a hybrid of restorative and retributive justice. What does this mean? It means that retributive justice was applied where necessary and restorative, where it demanded on rational and justifiable grounds.
These two forms of justice were applied in order to transform the mindsets of prisoner’s towards those they victimised and enable them to reintegrate and live together in harmony after serving their time.
For example; the perpetrators of the genocide in category one, carry the full responsibility of their actions and were isolated to avoid interfering with the reconciliation process.
On the other hand, category two to four formed a big number of prisoners, who did not participate planning the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Due to their large number, they were allowed to face Gacaca courts.
This paved way for the country to reconcile in order to avoid paralysis of Rwanda’s societies.
There are no concrete modes of punishment appropriate, for specific crimes committed.
Questions like should the amount of punishment be determined? How should judges go about deciding or how severe should a punishment be imposed, are still silent.
Rwanda aims at total reconciliation to give chance to its children achieve a better future without hatred. This implies that the ultimate aim of punishment is in line with changing people’s hateful attitude towards each other.
However, this reformation cannot be as spontaneous as desired by many.
Transforming the mind
Mind transformation is a process.
Professor George K. Njoroge, a philosopher who has done great research on the Rwandan genocide, said that the mind is identified as the culprit through which hate, contempt and desire for obliteration of the Tutsi was fomented through programs meant to orient the mind to genocide.
“The mind is identified as the tool through which punishment has meaning,” he said.
The 1994 Genocide survivors, victims and Rwandan society would have to focus on changing the mind of the perpetrators so that they can accept the humanity of the genocide survivors and the victims.
The series of deaths that started in 1994 due to the genocide cannot be justifiable in a society that aims at the promotion of respect for humanity and social justice.
The perpetrators punished must retain their dignity, so as to suffer remorse and regret while recollecting the pain and humiliation meted on the victims and survivors of the genocide. Of course their dignity and humanity transcends mere retribution.
“For one to be able to do this, the mind must be clouded by elements of revenge, it must also be guided by critical thinking of the context and historiographical reality of the perpetrator of the genocide,” said Njoroge.
Hundreds of thousands participated in the extermination of the Tutsi. Today, Rwanda as a nation continues to work hard towards changing for development. If this change is not promoted at the grassroots, the future of Rwanda would still be doomed.
All these notwithstanding, the only hope lies in understanding the human impulse to hate and more importantly, the forces that transform that impulse into annihilative action.
To be continued