Memorandum submitted by Dr Zac Nsenga,
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda
My name is Zac Nsenga and am currently serving
as the Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States. I also served
as Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2000 with concurrent
accreditation to the Nordic countries and Dublin. I am greatly
honored to be asked to share with the committee, Rwanda's experience
on reconciliation. I do hope that our experience will contribute
the committee's efforts as it deals with Northern Ireland's past.
In my submission, I have tried to highlight
what I think is relevant from Rwanda's experience on reconciliation.
So, please feel free to contact me at any time during the hearing
should you require more information or clarification as regards
RECONCILIATION: AN EXPERIENCE FROM RWANDA
Rwanda is one of the 53 African states situated
geographically more to the East than to centre of Africa. It borders
Uganda to the North, Tanzania to the East, Burundi to the South
and DRC to the West. It has a population of 8.2 million and the
size of Wales in the UK Rwanda is struggling to recover from her
bitter recent history of chronic human rights violation, a culture
of impunity and 1994 genocide. Most Rwandans now believe that
classical justice alone is not enough to bring about reconciliation
given the magnitude of the task ahead of them. Rwandans are now
probing through their historic past for some of the other initiatives
that can restore unity and reconciliation.
Historically, Rwanda existed as kingdom under
a centralized administration headed by king. The people of Rwanda
have always shared a common culture, religion and language (kinyarwanda).
They were differentiated along social lines depending on level
of wealth (cows). Normally, Batutsi class depended on cows for
livelihood. Abahutu depended on agriculture where as the Batwa
either did pottery or specialized in entertaining at the king's
All the three classes paid tribute to the king
in return for protection and various favours. Batutsi who lost
their cattle due to disease epidemic such as Rinderpest would
become Bahutu and like wise Bahutus who obtained cattle would
become Batutsi thus climbing the ladder of the social strata.
This social mobility ended abruptly with the onset of colonial
administration. What had hitherto been social classes until then,
took a fixed ethnic outlook and thus there emerged the "Tutsi,
Hutus and Twa ethnic groups". Some even go further to refer
to them as "major Rwandan tribes".
A traditional justice system called GACACA predominated
as an institution for resolving conflict, rendering justice and
reconciliation. The king was the ultimate judge and arbiter for
those cases that ever reached him. Despite the traditional nature
of the system, harmony and cohesion had been established among
Rwandans and within the kingdom.
The colonial administration drastically changed
the traditional system with a new order in which they ruled indirectly
through the king whose power had been completely usurped. New
sets of rules and instructions that were unfair and unpopular
to ordinary people were being implemented by their king (Tutsi)
to the detriment of the centuries old cohesion. The western form
of justice inherited was taken as alien, divisive, unfairly applied
and only served the interest of the colonial administration.
These serious colonial distortions undermined
the cohesive process characteristic of the pre colonial era and
sowed the seed of disaster that was in waiting. No wonder therefore
that unlike many of the African countries that obtained independence
with a united sense of nationalism, Rwanda's transition to independence
was marred with bloody massacres recognized by many as the first
Rwandan genocide of 1959. Tens of thousands of "Tutsis"
and many pro-monarchist "Hutus" were massacred or forced
into exile. State inspired violence continued to be directed against
innocent "Tutsi" in form of persecution, loss or destruction
of property, torture, imprisonment and forced exile.
A culture of impunity prevailed for all those
decades until 1994 genocide. No body was ever held to account
for all the human rights violations. In actual fact, impunity
was codified into the Rwandan law under what was termed as "Amnesty
law of 20 May 1963" which exonerated all those responsible
for the 1959-62 massacres and "Amnesty law of 30 November
1974" granting amnesty to those who committed political crimes
and massacres of Tutsis in 1972. It was this long established
culture of impunity that paved the way for 1994 genocide.
The peculiar nature of the Rwandan genocide
by which large proportion of population got involved in massive
crimes against humanity posed the greatest bottleneck to the administration
of justice and reconciliation. And indeed, the challenge in the
aftermath of genocide has been how to bring about accountability
for genocide, end impunity and set the country on the path to
the rule of law on one hand and on the other to bring about national
unity and reconciliation as a basis for peace, stability and development.
It was this kind of dilemma that led the government
of Rwanda to initiate nation wide debates and international consultations
on the future of justice in Rwanda. Fundamental conclusions were
It would take over 150 years for
Rwanda's justice system (national courts and the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) to complete the current genocide
suspects in custody (120,000 inmates).
Given our historic past, eradicating
a culture of impunity is a must if justice and reconciliation
is to be realized.
Classical justice alone would not
be sufficient to bring about healing and reconciliation in a society
that has endured impunity and injustice for so long and whose
social fabric had been destroyed by 1994 genocide.
Since a large number of citizens
publicly committed crimes against their neighbors and in the eyes
of the whole population, the society would play a role in recounting
the facts, disclosing the truth and participating in both reconstitution
of Rwandan social fabric and the healing process as a matter of
Questioning the past for solutions
on reconciliation would be a good idea to start with. The history
of Rwanda provided rich tradition of peaceful co"existence
and reconciliation. Other alternative solutions from elsewhere
would be incorporated if found fitting to the Rwandan situation.
Based on the above considerations, Gacaca system
of justice was adopted though legislation. The advantage of gacaca
concept is that every Rwandan is familiar with it and it is well
rooted into the Rwandan culture and tradition. Nobody would have
to go for training on what it is, how it works and its benefits
to the community.
The word Gacaca in Kinyarwanda means "in
the grass". In pre-colonial Rwanda, it was used to settle
community disputes and conflict, thus rendering justice and reconciliation
to communities. Both the offender and the offended would be judged
by a team of respected elders of high reputation known for their
impartiality (INYANGAMUGAYO). The community plays the role of
the judge, the prosecution and implemention of the sentence passed.
Judgments passed are intended to facilitate
the victim and the offender to forgive and reconcile. The offender
would be reintegrated into society without any retribution and
would promise the community not to repeat the offence. The offender
is asked to compensate the victim. The system ensured harmony
in the kingdom of Rwanda. It was respected because of its fairness
emanating from the impartiality of the judges and the whole community.
1. To expedite the trial of over 120,000
2. Truth telling through confession and witnesses
from the public. This avails evidence and information for purposes
of prosecution and documentation of genocide.
3. To end culture of impunity that has characterized
4. To facilitate Reconciliation through confessions
and seeking apologies.
Traditional gacaca was never applied to crimes
of such magnitude as genocide. That is why it was important to
empower it through an act of legislation in order for it to pass
relatively heavier punishment. Impunity had to end and be seen
to be tackled, lest Gacaca would be seen, especially by the survivors
of genocide, as a kind of amnesty similar to the ones of 1963
and 1974. It is for this very reason (able to try and punish)
that Gacaca was preferred as opposed to the South African Truth
and Reconciliation. It was also imperative to categorize the level
of involvement in genocide crimes because not all cases of genocide
suspects would be handled by Gacaca.
All persons whose criminal acts or criminal
participation place them among planners, organizers, supervisors
and ringleaders of the genocide or crimes against humanity; all
persons who at that time were in the organs of leadership, army,
gendarmerie, communal police or militia and committed genocide
or encouraged others to commit crimes; persons who committed acts
of torture against others even if they did not result into death;
persons who committed acts of rape.
This category includes those who killed with
or without intent to kill but they were not the planners of genocide;
or caused serious body injuries with intent to kill but did not
achieve their objective; or those who aided others to kill such
as by giving information on victims hide out.
Includes all who committed acts of Arson.
Gacaca tribunals have jurisdiction over categories
2 and 3. Punishment is executed through community service or a
combination of community service and imprisonment. Most in category
3 have been acquitted already because they have already been in
prison for long. Category 1 suspects are under the jurisdiction
of ordinary national courts and international tribunal for Rwanda
1. Many prisoners have confessed, recounted
the truth about what happened and asked for forgiveness.
2. Gacaca process has led to the release
of over 42,000 prisoners to be handled by gacaca courts or for
reintegration into their communities.
3. Reconciliation is in progress as those
released and have asked for forgiveness are engaged in day to
day challenges of facing the realities of our history and the
survivors they wronged.
4. Gacaca has had a positive impact to the
community through confidence building and community participation
for a common goal.
5. Concept of community service as opposed
to imprisonment has been adopted. Many who are convicted through
gacaca courts spend half or all their punishment doing community
work such as building schools, health centres, road construction
The major challenges include:
1. Gacaca system poses a lot of financial
and logistical bottleneck. There are more than 10,000 courts around
the country which implies a lot of communication, transportation
and administrative requirements.
2. Survivor's compensation is still problematic.
Where as more is done focusing on trials and reconciliation, resources
have to be available to compensate the survivors of genocide who
are expected to forgive and reconcile their tormentors without
anything in return.
Rwandans know that gacaca is not a panacea in
itself. It is one of those tools that can facilitate reconciliation
through expediting trials, ending impunity and truth telling.
The alternative means more than a century of a burden that only
the Rwandans have to shoulder. Gacaca system will help us put
the burden of a huge prison population behind us and increase
chances for reconciliation. It is a home grown solution known
to Rwandans of all walks of life. We do not need expertise and
neither do we need training on the system.
Certainly, it presents a lot of financial and
logistic challenges. But these are worth tackling. The alternative,
in the case of Rwanda, is more costly. I believe that within any
given society and especially the conflict stricken ones like Rwanda,
there are many local initiatives that can be re-visited for solutions.
There is no one single answer to justice and reconciliation. A
combination of initiatives : political, economic, social and cultural
efforts play a big role. And it seems to me that the Northern
Ireland Affairs committee is on the right path trying to examine
all these aspects from different experiences.
29 December 2004