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Rwanda: Gacaca Justice
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Rwanda: Gacaca Justice
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Grassroots Justice in Rwanda

Over a million Rwandans died in the terrible genocide that swept the country in 1994. With peace restored, the government faced the problem of truth and reconciliation. With hundreds of thousands implicated in the slaughter, the justice system was in paralysis. But by 2005 Rwanda had found a homegrown answer to their problem: the traditional gacaca court.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Gacaca Justice
DATIVE BIHOYIKI [Church Guide]
So this place is called Nyamata, and this was a church, it was a Catholic church before 1994. And, at that time, there was the genocide between the Tutsis and the Hutu, and the Hutu they killed the Tutsis. In this village most of the people were Tutsis, they took the decision to come in this church to be safe, because ... The genocide started on the 7th, the people started to run in different places. On the 12th, the people, some people they started to get tired, like women and the kids, and they take the decision to come in here, to be safe in this church. They stayed there for three days; after three days the Hutu militia came to kill them. Around 5,000 people were killed in this church, in this compound.
ROSE MUKANTABANA [Speaker of Parliament]
The genocide was committed by Rwandans against other Rwandans. The genocide had been stopped by Rwandans, while the international community was looking inactively, even the UN forces who were here during the genocide.
VOICEOVER
I meet Salaphina in a village called Nyamata. She shows me the barred door of the church that the murderers broke down that day in April 1994. Inside the church thousands of terrified men, women, and children had crowded together. The carnage had been appalling. Remnants of their clothing and pieces of simple jewelry still lie on the church pews -- memories of lives that no longer exist. A few of the murderer's abandoned weapons can be seen on the altar. I ask Salaphina what had happened to her family. Her relatives had been murdered near the church.
SALAPHINA MUKAMUSONI
My husband's family at my aunt's house. Like I said, they were our loved ones, our menfolk. My husband was also among them.
VOICEOVER
What had sparked off this mindless killing? Today, Rwanda appears to be a model of peaceful, law-abiding serenity. What had brought about the conflict, I wondered? But that is perhaps the wrong question.
MARY GAHONZIRE [Chief of Police]
With genocide, it was an ideology. It was not a conflict, it was an ideology, planted by foreigners, planted by the colonialists, accepted and taken wholly as, you know, to be gospel truth by some Rwandese, and got the understanding that some Rwandese were not really entitled to be in their country.
SALAPHINA MUKAMUSONI
Those who became killers were our friends and neighbors. We went to each other's weddings. We married each other, and we ate together. We were shocked and completely taken by surprise. It would be good if they begged for forgiveness and showed us where the bodies are. We were so shocked. It must never happen again.
VOICEOVER
The film "Hotel Rwanda" was made about hotel Mille Collines. These days it is restored, spruced-up, and elegant, just like the rest of the capital. One day a month every citizen is summoned to an obligatory day of work: cleaning, sweeping, or digging ditches. The result: Kigali is far and away Africa's cleanest capital, and boasts an extremely low criminality. The country's schools seethe with activity, and there is a determination to catch up with the rest of the world. The use of French is diminishing; these days English is the official language.
MARY GAHONZIRE
We feel we should run faster, and get this country to greater heights, because there is quite a lot we missed, during the genocide, during all these problems we had. So we feel we should move a lot faster, and actually a lot faster than everybody else. Because time is not on our side.
GACACA COURT OFFICIAL
It is obligatory for Rwandans to appear at the gacaca court. Anyone who fails to report what they have seen or who bears false witness, will themselves be prosecuted. Failure to witness to what they have seen carries a prison sentence of one to six months.
GACACA COURT JUDGE
Do you understand? I want us to co-operate, so that none of you will get into trouble for what you have said. Do you see? The law is not a song. It's a law. Listen to chapter 71.
VOICEOVER
Today is an important day in this little village in Southern Rwanda. Perhaps justice is about to catch up with the last of those responsible for the genocide here. This is the man who is to be tried. His name is Kassian. There are those in the village who say he was involved in the murder of Tutsis, although others dispute this. He, of course, denies the accusation. Witnesses have been called from near and far, and now everyone will try to remember what happened during those terrifying, chaotic days in 1994. A few of the witnesses have already been convicted of genocide. Dressed in their pink prison uniforms, they sit and wait for their turn. Will they support Kassian, or are they going to denounce him? No one knows how the day will end. The first hours are taken up with formalities, but then the witnesses come forward.
WITNESS 1
He took part in the genocide and there are witnesses to it. I went to gacaca because many people saw him murder my family. It's good that there are people here who can witness. They can say whether he is guilty or not. The people who murdered my family came from here.
VOICEOVER
During the genocide, Hutu militias set up roadblocks throughout the country at which they captured and murdered fleeing Tutsis. Kassian was seen at one of these roadblocks, several witnesses are certain of this. But time has passed and memories have faded.
KASSIAN
I admit that I was at the roadblock in Gahondo, but I was forced to go there.
GACACA COURT JUDGE
And what did you do there?
KASSIAN
Nothing, they were going to kill me.
GACACA COURT JUDGE
Did you go there to get killed?
KASSIAN
I went there to get killed, a group of people came to my house, they hit me on the head. They took me to the roadblock and accused me of not helping them. I didn't want to go there because they had murdered my elder brother in Sazange. They said that his Tutsi relatives had killed him. We were with my relatives, waiting to be killed. The ones who killed my brother wanted to kill me too. They tried to hide the truth and trick me.
VOICEOVER
Kassian admits that he often carried an axe, but he claims he used it only to chop wood.
WOMAN 1
There is a terrible wall of silence. If it is true that the Rwandan people are still silent, will we be able to develop and reach our vision in 2020? It's awful the things people admit to. I was in Kanyaru and heard that they had found someone there who had killed some people. Those who participated in the killings were talking about it, they didn't know they would end up in a courtroom. They told us how many people they had murdered and who they were. They are hiding something here but the judge should be able to find out what it is. The defendant says that he went into the forest to chop wood, but in reality it was Tutsis that were slain. We must tell the truth. Tutsis were chopped, not wood.
VOICEOVER
A man turns up unexpectedly wanting to testify that he actually saw Kassian commit murder.
WITNESS 2
I swear by almighty God to tell the truth.
JUDGE
Do you recognize this man?
WITNESS 2
Yes, that's Kassian.
JUDGE
Tell us what you know about him.
WITNESS 2
There was a group of warriors who came from Gahondo, they were called Ibinyangu. When he came to my house he took part in the murdering of my elder brother.
JUDGE
Did you say that he came with a group of warriors?
WITNESS 2
Yes, the ones called Ibinyangu. When they came to my family ...
JUDGE
To your family home?
WITNESS 2
Yes, to my family. My father and my elder brother were murdered. He also murdered a man called Karissa.
JUDGE
Your father and brother were killed that day?
WITNESS 2
Yes, that day. What I saw was how he murdered Karissa.
VOICEOVER
Then the main witness arrives: a man who has been convicted and served his sentence for participating in the genocide. He has confessed, repented, and has therefore been released ahead of time. He knows that he can be sent back to prison if he lies. He describes the murdering without sentiment.
WITNESS 3
We searched for him and when we found him we killed him. You asked about the weapons we had. Some had wooden clubs, others machetes.
JUDGE
Were you with Kassian?
WITNESS 3
No, I didn't see him until we came to Kabuga. There we scoured the area and I lead the way. There was no way back. This was also where I lived.
WOMAN 2
My brothers and my nephews! That's where they hid!
ALOYSIE CYANZAYIRE [President of the Supreme Court]
Clearly, we are nearing the end of the work with gacaca. I believe we have achieved the goals we had expected from the system. One of our aims was to achieve national reconciliation. At the beginning we had about 120,000 people waiting to be sentenced. It was clear that, without justice, it was impossible to speak of reconciliation.
VOICEOVER
The Tutsis are a minority of the country's population, and when they took power in the wake of the genocide, they realized that justice must include reconciliation and forgiveness, if continued co-existence between Hutu and Tutsi were to be possible. Resolution with those who had committed the genocide demanded a new sort of law.
ALOYSIE CYANZAYIRE
A law that not only deals out punishment, but which also allows the guilty person to seek forgiveness from the victims and the people. When forgiveness has been granted, the guilty person can then be accepted by the people. His sentence is reduced and he can return to society.
TITLE
[end credits]