Rewards for Confession
At Gisovu Prison, tucked high in the tea plantations south of Kibuye, a prosecutor addresses the crowd of prisoners standing patiently before him in the drumming rain. Each carries a copybook with lined paper, their dossiers with details of the accusations against them. Under the Gacaca Act passed by the Rwandan legislature in 2000, each prisoner will be ranked by the seriousness of his or her crimes. Category I is the most serious. It includes organizers of the genocide and rapists.
Prisoners in Categories II and III are eligible to confess and have the possibility of getting their prison term halved. For example, someone sentenced to ten years would serve five years in prison and five years performing community service.
Meal time at Gisovu Prison. Photo: D. George / American RadioWorks
27-year-old Caliste Gashiarawa was one of the first to confess. He says he participated in many attacks against the Tutsis and killed five people himself, including the family of a neighbor and good friend. "The day before, we heard shots coming from the commune office and the next day, the police came and told us, "Now all the Tutsis have to die, and those who will not participate in killing them will also die."
Caliste's story is a familiar one. No-one knows how many people participated in the genocide. Alison DesForges of Human Rights Watch estimates that between 20-30,000 did most of the actual killing, wielding machetes and ponga sticks. But thousands more manned roadblocks to stop Tutsis from escaping or reported their whereabouts to the gangs of killers.
Caliste says he is ready to accuse more of the killers who acted with him when he stands before neighbors, family and the survivors of those he killed. "I know that nothing can replace a person once they've died, but if the survivors could agree and forgive me, then we could share whatever I had."
Though there have been rebellions in some prisons that are still dominated by Hutu hardliners, the number of prisoners coming forward to confess is growing. With the incentives clear, it's even possible some innocent prisoners will confess to get their sentences shortened.
Judge Tharcisse estimates as many as 20 percent of the prisoners are innocent,
"It's a nightmare of work" he says. "After the war, people pointed fingers." He says arresting officials often didn't know legal procedures, so no formal charges were made.
He says these are the people they'd like to process first. He says,"The gacaca process will allow us to go backward and from there, the truth comes out."
Next: Will the Gacacas Work?