Rwanda’s grassroots justice

13 January 2010 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Fifteen years on, Rwandans are still reliving the genocide. Every week, scores of people around the country attend the community-based Gacaca trials of alleged génocidaires in their communities.

Two suspects dressed in pink prison uniforms are brought into the assembly room in a community centre in Runda, some 20 minutes outside Kigali. More than a hundred villagers take their seats in the small room, others gather around the building to watch the trial through the window. In attendance are victims, survivors and witnesses. The presiding judge asks for calm. “Please remember that this is not a market, this is a court of law.”

After a minute of silence for victims of the genocide, the first suspect is called. Hitimana was a community driver in 1994 and is accused of having driven dead bodies from the central church and dumped them in the nearby Nyaborongo river. The man, who is in his thirties, claims he is innocent. He is a Tutsi and says that he was a victim of the genocide himself. Several witnesses confirm Hitimana’s story while others say they witnessed his crimes. Establishing the truth will be a difficult task for the six community judges.

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