Today, Rwanda is considered to be the safest place to walk at night without the fera of getting mugged. The brightly lit roads and security patrol on the streets, 24/7 are a glaring testament of this.
After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, where a million people perished and hundreds of thousands of women raped, it is hard to believe that this country has moved on. Tremendous strides in economic, political and social development have been registered.
Regardless of such a history, the Government of Rwanda led by President Paul Kagame embarked on strengthening the justice and reconciliation process with the ultimate goal of Rwandans to live in peace and unity.
Sasha Sharif, a student at Harvard Law School, spoke of how Rwanda has changed since her last visit in 2007.
“There is a lot that other countries have to learn from Rwanda. The involvement of the people in moving their country forward is amazing. It seems like there is a shared sense of commitment and motivation to development. It’s something I have not seen anywhere else,” Sharif said.
As a law student, she was fascinated with the judicial system of Rwanda.
“The country’s looking back to their legal traditions like Gacaca Courts and incorporating it with the modern legal structure is amazing,” Sharif expresses.
The Rwandan Government re-established the traditional community court system called “Gacaca” which became fully operational in 2005.
Communities at the local level elected judges to hear the trials of genocide suspects. The courts gave lower sentences if the person is repentant and seeks reconciliation with the community.
Often, confessing prisoners return home without further penalty or receive community service orders. By May 2009, more than one million cases had been judged in more than 12,000 courts throughout the country according to the United Nations and prevention of genocide ‘Lessons from Rwanda’ document.
According to 90-year–old Phillipe Kanamugire, a member of Inteko Izirikana Association, “Rwandans are naturally peaceful people.”
“It’s the colonial masters who used the divide and rule policy that antagonized our culture. In the earlier days conflict was solved through dialogue not by fighting one another,” Kanamugire recalls.
He adds that it is the role of Rwandans to revive their culture.
The Inteko Izirikana association was started by elders with an aim of reviving cultural traits.
The reconciliation process focuses on reconstructing the Rwandan identity, balancing justice, truth and the future peace and security situation of the country.
For example, the Constitution now states that all Rwandans share equal rights. Laws fighting discrimination and divisive genocide ideology have been passed.
The primary responsibility for reconciliation efforts in Rwanda rests with the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) whose main purpose is promote Rwandan values and cultivate leaders who strive for community development.
The trainings are carried out from grassroot level and aim at helping youth and women in trauma counseling and conflict alleviation to maintain peaceful co-existence.