Will the Gacacas Work?
But finding the truth won't be so easy. Across the road from the prison in Kibuye is a shelter for women who were raped during the genocide and who have since been abandoned by their families. Their stories illustrate some of the difficulties of the gacaca process.
One woman with scars on her arms and torso and a large gash on the side of her head explains that she is a Hutu who was married to a Tutsi. Her relatives killed her husband and four children. "My family doesn't want to look at me because they believe I'll report them."
These Tutsi women were all raped during the genocide. Many have been rejected by their surviving family members. Photo: D. George / American RadioWorks
Finding victims who can present clear and coherent testimony will also be a problem. The survivors today often live surrounded by Hutu who have family in prison. During the genocide, they were in hiding or on the run and didn't see a lot of what was happening. And many are badly traumatized. One of the women at the shelter keeps her face covered with her hands, crying continually. "If you are wondering why I am dropping tears, it is because I do not know the number of people who raped me" she says.
When she lowers her hands from her face, she has the high cheekbones and thin face that many consider classic Tutsi features. Women like her often received particularly cruel treatment. After her husband was killed, she says, she was taken captive by the
Interahamwe militia, and kept for months as a sex slave. The men took her with them when they fled to Zaire before the Rwandan Patriotic Front. They abandoned her there and she found her way back home. She has AIDS and her family doesn't want her back. She says she would never be able to identify the men who kidnapped and raped her.
The women say they would welcome compensation--help rebuilding their houses for example. But they're dubious about the gacacas, especially their emphasis on reconciliation. One of the women, a rape victim says, "To me…justice is all about the government, because the government allowed the people to do what happened. But you don't expect the people themselves to ensure justice."
Still, Prosecutor Tharcisse is optimistic. He says from his experience, the best verifiable evidence is from the Hutu prisoners. "They knew what was going on. The others were in hiding. The evidence of the perpetrators is much more solid than someone who was on the run." And, he's sure people will tell the truth at the gacacas.
"We're not saying gacaca has no shortcomings, but it's a risk worth taking. In our society, it is very rare to tell lies publicly," he explains. "So we are hoping peer pressure will force people to tell the truth. In our tradition, if you tell a lie to a hundred listening people, chances are someone will pop up and say, 'stupid, don't tell lies'."
Next: Reason to Reconcile