Government should devise new strategies to execute thousands of Gacaca judgments about property looted or destroyed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that are yet to be implemented so that the offenders can pay back what they destroyed.
Information obtained by The New Times from the Ministry of Justice indicates that 54,160 cases unsettled.
According to Martine Urujeni, the head of Access to Justice Services Department at the Ministry of Justice, of the 54,160 cases that remain unsettled, 28,973 cases don’t stand a chance of being settled because the offenders died, fled, or have no property to be used to pay back while 25,187 could be settled only if serious efforts are made.
Though Urujeni said that local governments across the country have made commitments to execute these cases, she also recommended that different stakeholders must discuss how to conclusively end the issue.
“It’s not yet clear how the issue will be solved. Different institutions will have to discuss and decide how this issue can be addressed. People need to sit and see if there is a solution that can be devised; what can be done,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice indicate that of the more than 1.9 million cases that were tried by Gacaca courts over a ten-year period, from 2002 to 2012, over 1.3 million (1,320,554) concerned destroyed property.
Though 1,266,394 property related Gacaca judgements have since been settled as offenders paid back for what they destroyed or sought and secured forgiveness from Genocide survivors who were offended, cases that are still unsettled remain an impediment to unity and reconciliation of Rwandans, officials say.
The chairperson of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, Jean Leonard Sekanyange, told this newspaper last week that there is always a sense of resentment among those who owe something and those who expect to be compensated for their destroyed property.
“This issue should be dealt with once and for all. It slows the country’s development as those who have failed to pay what they destroyed have a tendency of not working hard and often hide their properties from public eye. It’s also against Rwandans’ efforts at unity and reconciliation as there is rancour between those who owe something and the victims,” he said.
Though there were many recommendations and commitments by officials to resolve the matter, settling all the debts has proven to be difficult to accomplish with many of the convicts having died or left the country without leaving property behind or being too poor to pay or have hidden their properties by registering them under other people’s names.
But different approaches have been adopted to execute cases that still stand a chance to be resolved, including the use of force by local officials or professional bailiffs to compel convicts who have assets to pay back their debts while those who are too poor to pay are urged to ask for forgiveness from the survivors and the latter can pardon them and write off the debts.
Activists such as Sekanyange and Prof Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka, the umbrella organisation for Genocide survivors, told this newspaper that new impetus is needed to end the issue of the unsettled cases.
Sekanyange advised that professional bailiffs should be used to execute cases where local leaders have shied away from doing it while the government should also consider paying for those offenders who are indigent or move to mediate between them and survivors to secure forgiveness.
“Local officials have failed to fast-track the execution of these cases but we believe that professional bailiffs can help,” Sekanyange said.
Dusingizemungu advised that the government should move to bring about more political will by local officials to execute the judgements because some of them have not given priority to the issue.
“The problem should be discussed at the local level at any opportunity. The Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs (MINALOC) should work with other institutions to solve this issue,” he said.
The State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, told The New Times that a political solution will have to be devised to conclusively settle the issue and explained that it’s a matter of time before that can happen.
“We need to sit together and find a political solution to this problem. We need to sit together with all stakeholders concerned such as CNLG (National Commission for the Fight against Genocide), Ibuka, and the government among others and come up with a solution,” he said.
Uwizeyimana said that the issue is currently under discussion at different levels of government and that there is hope a “sustainable solution” could be found in the near future.