The social cost of confessions

08 May 2006 by Louis Martin Rugendo

Since 1996, 146,000 people in Rwanda have reportedly confessed to taking part in the genocide, according to the latest estimates IJT received from the national office for the Gacaca courts. In 1996, a procedure was introduced into the law for confessing and pleading guilty to crimes. This then became the leitmotif of the 2000 organic law governing the Gacaca peoples' courts attracting the support of an impressive number of people. However, the Rwandan society is paying a heavy price for the success of these confessions, taken both from people in prison and from people still at large in the hills.

146,000 confessions in 10 years. This new staggering figure requires some clarification. Approximately half of the confessions were taken in prisons, while the other half was taken during the information-gathering stage of the Gacaca or at a later stage, sometimes spontaneously. They cover every degree of participation in the genocide. For example, there are women who come before the Gacaca and confess to having taken some small pieces of furniture from the homes of their neighbors who got murdered or fled during the genocide. These statements are recorded as confessions and often the judges order these women to pay restitution or reimbursement for these items and to ask the victims publicly to forgive them. In 2003 and 2004, court authorities released some 40,000 people accused of participating in the genocide from several categories: those who were over 70, the seriously ill, minors between the ages of 14 and 18 at the time of their crimes, prisoners under ordinary law and especially, those who had confessed their crimes.

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