Agnes came to me last week to tell me my landlord had just been put in prison “for genocide”. Harsh as it may sound this didn’t surprise me in the slightest. He is/was a horrible guy who used to raise his hand to Agnes in a joking manner, and whose iron grip on my upper arm made itself known that anything he really wanted could be got. My roof still leaks. My windows leak. The tap leaks. I never wanted him around my house so I didn’t chase him up over things that didn’t work.
He was giving evidence at a gacaca (local courts that try genocide suspects all over the country. It’s a very slow process seeing as there are hundreds of thousands of cases to be put forward) when somebody pointed the finger at him and implicated him in the same killing. Two days later the police came a knocking and he was put in prison. He’s already served one prison sentence but this was for a separate crime. A few days later he was allowed out to get a lawyer – a huge luxury that only the very wealthiest could even dream of. But Agnes told me today that he’s back in. I have a feeling it will be like this for a while. He awaits his trial, but as Agnes said, “it is very very serious” and he could be given a 25 yr sentence.
Then two days later she mentioned that her dad had just been taken to prison too. He had also been implicated for actions back in 94. This didn’t surprise me either too much – I knew Agnes had spent a year and a half in Congo in 96, which would correlate with when Hutus extremists left - either fleeing the Tutsi insurgance or going to strengthen rebel parties outside the country. Anyway, her father being in prison now adds to two of her uncles (whose wives were killed – possibly by them) as well as two of my guard’s sons. This war affected everyone.
Not a soul could live in Rwanda without knowing the effects. The guys I work with were either in prison themselves or lost some family... or both – it goes both ways.
Agnes said to me “At the moment Gacaca is gaining strength. By July there shall be no men left in the hills. Everyone will be in prison. This is very bad for all the families. My mother cannot cope cultivating green beans all by herself”. The worst thing, she said, is that people who have enemies in the country accuse each other as a sort of revenge – truth doesn’t matter anymore. If you have a land or cow problem with your neighbour then you can tell the courts that you saw him kill a neighbour back in 1994. “My father is one of 5 men accused of killing all the Tutsi on my hill, but maybe he just has rivals”. Who’s to say? Gacaca is definitely needed but it cannot be foolproof. How do you even start to try to attain justice – or even better reconciliation?