Global Policy Forum

Genocide Sentences "Humiliate Survivors"


By Aimable Twahirwa

Mail & Guardian
January 10, 2006

During the 12 years since the Rwandan genocide, national and community courts -- and an international tribunal -- have tried to bring about justice for victims of the killings and rights abuses that took place in 1994.

Among the sentences that have been handed down, however, those that relate to forms of community service are sparking anger among genocide survivors. Almost 900 people have been sentenced to community service under an initiative started last year. The service is referred to by its French acronym TIG (from "travaux d'interet general", or "works of general interest"), while those involved in it are known as "tigistes".

"Punishment such as building a house, or any other kind of work, seems insignificant to me. Their punishment should be similar to the pain they themselves inflicted," says Emilienne Mukabutera, a genocide survivor from the central province of Gitarama. "How can you expect me to live in the same community with murderers who exterminated my family?" she asks, adding that she also fears renewed attacks by those convicted for their role in the genocide. Mukabutera lost her husband and six children in 1994, when all seven were killed in front of her. She was also raped by Hutu militiamen known as Interahamwe ("those who fight together"). Some were neighbours whom she knew well. Mukabutera escaped death only by agreeing to marry one of her attackers, who joked that "he wanted to get a taste of some arrogant Tutsi women".

The genocide saw hard-line members of Rwanda's Hutu ethnic group target minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus over a period of about three months. The killings began after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on April 6. Upwards of 800 000 people are believed to have died in the massacres, which were also carried out by members of the armed forces.

'It would be better to free them'

Bosco Munyemana, a genocide survivor from Kabagari district, in Gitarama, is another of those who find the idea of killers and rights abusers doing community service unacceptable. "It's ridiculous what the Rwandan judicial system is doing. It seems outrageous to me to exonerate criminals by sentencing them to simple construction work. It would be better just to free them than to humiliate the genocide survivors like this," he says. Munyemana is a student whose father was hacked to death by machete-wielding Hutus.

However, the idea of community service for genocide perpetrators is receiving support from Justice Minister Edda Mukabagwiza, who has coordinated the TIG initiative since it was established in September 2005. "This programme allows the tigistes to acquire new professional skills that will help facilitate their reintegration into society," he says, noting that those doing the service also receive training in human rights and related subjects.


An additional twist in the debate relates to money. Certain tigistes have asked Rwandan authorities for amnesty, so that they can provide for their families (according the 2005 Human Development Report, produced by the United Nations Development Programme, more than half the population in Rwanda lives on less than $1 a day).

"We've sufficiently understood the wrong we've done. That's why we agreed to participate in TIG punishment," says Augustin Bizimana. This tigiste took part in massacres in his village of Kinigi, in northern Ruhengeri province.

Marie Jeanne Kantengwa, whose husband was sentenced to three years of community service, acknowledges that those who carried out the 1994 killings need to be penalised. However, she sees TIG as a form of slavery. "We would have preferred that they remain in prison instead of being slaves. They won't receive any remuneration for their work that would help their families survive," Kantengwa notes. A 70-year-old tigiste, Elias Bagirubwira, disagrees. "Comparing TIG to slavery proves that some people want to trivialise the seriousness of the deeds that were done," he says.

According to TIG executive secretary Emmanuel Twagirumukiza, those doing community service are housed in two camps, in the southern town of Nyanza and the central district of Ruyumba respectively. About 780 inmates live in the second camp, including about a dozen senior citizens aged 60 to 81. Inmates work at crushing rocks, mostly to make paving stones. As a result of their labour, the government has been able to build a number of roads. About 12-million stones have been ordered in a bid to pave all the streets of Kigali by 2008. Tigistes also build and renovate homes for orphans and widows, as well as schools, hospitals and water tanks. In addition, they participate in environmental work to prevent deforestation and soil erosion.

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