Senior government officials and representatives of survivors and professional bailiffs are scheduled to meet, today, in Kigali to brainstorm on how to solve the issue of Genocide convicts who are yet to pay for survivors’ property they looted or destroyed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
This was announced by Odette Yankulije, the head of Access to Justice Department at the Ministry of Justice, during an interview with The New Times on Tuesday.
Yankulije said the documented number of cases of Genocide convicts who are yet to pay for survivors’ property has been increasing since the middle of last year when the government urged the survivors to report the cases so they can be resolved.
Unlike in March last year when the cases were estimated at 10,762 countrywide, the number has now hit 66,667 as shown by last month’s reports from all the country’s 30 districts compiled by the Ministry of Justice.
“The more we make efforts to solve the cases, the more people report them, hence the increase in cases at the moment and there could even be more cases that we are yet to know. So, we have to keep sensitising people to report the cases and make efforts to resolve them,” Yankulije said.
But settling all the debts has proven to be difficult to accomplish with many of the convicts having died or left the country without leaving property behind or being too poor to pay or have hidden their properties by registering them under other people’s names.
Approaches to enforce repayment
Yankulije said different approaches are being used to settle the matters, including the use of force by local officials or professional bailiffs, to compel convicts who have assets to pay back their debts while those who are too poor to pay are urged to ask for forgiveness from the survivors and the latter can pardon them and write off the debts.
“Generally, there is will to forgive on the part of Genocide survivors in case the perpetrators make steps to ask for forgiveness and also show their will to pay even if they don’t have enough resources to cover all the payments,” she said.
Genocide survivor Aloys Rwamasirabo agrees with Yankulije on the will of survivors to forgive but he says the challenge is that some perpetrators haven’t yet shown the will to pay or ask for forgiveness.
He said out of the Rwf3.5 million that several convicts in Western Province’s Nyange Sector in Karongi District owed him for destroying his house and looting his cows and furniture during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, only about Rwf1 million remains unpaid.
Rwamasirabo said he has forgiven some of the convicts who showed the will to pay and ask for forgiveness. In one case, he said he had to write off Rwf80,000 for a convict who was committed to pay him back, while he worries about those who don’t bother to contact him in order to settle their debts.
“Those who are able to pay should pay but those who can’t pay can ask for forgiveness. We are ready to forgive them because we have always done it,” Rwamasirabo said.
The convicts across the country were mainly ordered to pay back property they destroyed or looted by Gacaca courts, which were closed in 2012 after hearing more than 1.3 million property-related cases as they tried more than 1.9 million genocide suspects in ten years.
In case a living convict is too poor to pay back the survivors’ property, the law terminating Gacaca courts and determining mechanisms for solving issues which were under their jurisdiction subjects the convicts to doing community services as alternative to imprisonment.
But the challenge for the government remains how to turn those services into money that can be used to pay the survivors, hence experts at the Ministry of Justice are under pressure to design a law that governs the process in order to try and solve the issue of unpaid debts of convicts to survivors.
“It’s a new thing in our country. We need to design the law very carefully so that we don’t cause other problems by trying to solve one problem,” Yankulije said when asked why enacting the law that governs how to turn community services by convicts into money to pay the victims is taking long.
Other measures that are in place to fast-track the execution of Gacaca courts’ judgements with regards to paying back survivors’ property include increasing campaigns about how to solve the problem using the help of professional bailiffs in case local officials fail to compel the convicts to pay.
At the Friday meeting to brainstorm on how to fast-track solving the issue of Genocide convicts who are yet to pay for survivors’ property, participants will include top government officials from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Local Government.
Representatives from the umbrella organisation for Genocide survivors in Rwanda (Ibuka) and the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), as well as the Association of Professional Bailiffs and the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) have also been invited to the meeting.