Genocide survivors want reparations

KIGALI, Rwanda — The Gacaca trials are now officially over, but Rwanda’s many genocide survivors are asking the government not to forget about them.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu is the president of IBUKA, an umbrella organization of genocide survivors, and is a survivor himself.

He said survivors are asking for some sort of compensation for the atrocities committed against them.

Many of the crimes committed during the genocide involved property being damaged or stolen. During the recently ended Gacaca hearings, over one million people were tried for property crimes.

Dr. Phil Clark is a professor at the University of London who’s been studying Rwanda’s reconciliation process, and has interviewed many participants of Gacaca. He was reached from London via Skype.

According to Clark, many survivors said they didn’t get the extent of justice they wanted. Perpetrators of genocide crimes served short sentences in jail and did some community service. He agreed with Dusingizemungu that the survivors want material compensation.

Kabisa John Damascene is a genocide survivor who participated in a Gacaca trial in 2006. He said he, like many survivors, should get reparations.

“Of course we need reparations. We lost so much,” he said. Damascene lost 17 people in his family, including seven children, his wife, and his father. This is a typical survivor story.

“This is one of the really outstanding issues,” Clark said. “Reparations is one of the ways that survivors can feel that the process has benefited them, and that there’s something tangible, something material that can come out of it.”

He said that despite the overall success of the Gacaca trials, this is one issue that remains unresolved.

“I think a lot of survivors at the moment are frustrated with the fact that the compensation and reparations that they were promised at the beginning of Gacaca haven’t materialized,” he said.

However, many of the genocidaires are not wealthy enough to compensate their victims, especially those in Category Three, who only damaged property.

“There’s the issue of who would actually have the sufficient resources to deliver those reparations,” Clark said.

There’s also the question of whose responsibility it is to deliver reparations.

“The government, I suspect, hopes this question will go away, but it won’t,” he said.

Clark said the government should consult with communities to decide who deserves reparations, what form they’ll take, and who will provide them.

“I think until there’s a public debate and clarity about whose responsibility it is, this question of reparations is going to roll onwards. I think there’s a deep need to resolve that.”

With this in mind, IBUKA is requesting the government to provide some sort of reparations. They ask the government to use profits from the General Interest Programme (TIG), wherein those convicted of crimes related to the genocide perform community service, to compensate individual survivors.

Damascene, the survivor, said that most genocidaires in Category One, who were planners and supervisors, can afford to pay reparations, and should be forced to do so.

He said that perpetrators who can’t afford to pay reparations should participate in TIG, and then the government should pay their reparations for them.

“The government must find a way,” he said.

Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama said the government has accepted responsibility for the survivors of the genocide, and already provides them with special support.

He said seven per cent of the budget is already allocated for providing survivors with funds for education, housing, and medical benefits, including psychological services, through the Fund for the Support of Genocide Survivors (FARG).

Dusingizemungu, whose organization helped convince survivors to participate in Gacaca, said the trials greatly helped the victims of the genocide. He himself participated in many of the trials.

“For many survivors, mourning was possible because Gacaca gave them the truth,” he said.

He also said the “horrific” testimonies during the hearings were very traumatic, and survivors continue to require social and psychological support. “Many times we heard very terrifying things about terrible acts.”

Dusingizemungu said the government and civil society actors should establish a program of psychological and social support for genocide survivors.

“We have psychologists and counselors in our associations. We want to reinforce the work they do, in terms of training and supervision. We want to be supported,” he said.

Professor Clark agrees that survivors continue to require support, especially after so many of the horrible facts of the genocide have now been exposed.

“One of the big issues that has to be addressed is how to help communities deal effectively with those legacies of Gacaca,” he said.

He said Gacaca was enormously emotionally taxing on communities, and they still need help dealing with that. “There has to be support. There has to be financial support, there has to be social support.”

Dusingizemungu said the nation needs to decide what the next step is for unity and reconciliation. He said the process must continue, with a new framework.

“We have to continue to create spaces for dialogue in the communities,” he said. “We’ve had an important chapter with Gacaca, but we need another one now, based on community dialogue.”

Justice Minister Karugarama said that for the most part, there is harmony and coexistence in Rwanda, but acknowledged that this is a long-term process that’s not over yet.

“The process of reconciliation and nation-building is a continuous process,” he said. “It will take many years to turn people into better human beings.”

* * *

A version of this article was published by The Chronicles newspaper in Rwanda in hard copy and online, in June, 2012. It can be found online here.

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