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Truth and reconciliation at a price

September 6, 2010

Second, gacaca’s emphasis on popular participation during hearings has yielded significant dividends in terms of truth. In particular, gacaca has been important for recovering truth in the form of legal facts about the genocide and therapeutic truth in terms of allowing individuals to tell and hear personal narratives that allow them to deal emotionally and psychologically with the past. Gacaca’s gathering of testimony from 11,000 communities now provides a rich, diverse reservoir of historical material regarding genocide crimes….

While gacaca has produced important benefits, it has also generated significant problems with lasting consequences for Rwandan society. Regarding justice through gacaca, many survivors increasingly criticise the lenient sentences handed down to many convicted génocidaires. In particular, many survivors perceive community service as insufficient punishment, given the gravity of crimes committed during the genocide.

Many survivors argue that convicted perpetrators have in the main benefited from the government’s need to rapidly empty the prisons and thus gacaca’s tendency toward moderate sentencing. Meanwhile, there is widespread anger among Hutu that gacaca has addressed only genocide crimes and not revenge killings against Hutu civilians committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel force that ended the genocide in July 1994 and today represents the ruling party in Rwanda.

Second, gacaca has also generated significant truth-related problems. Gacaca’s attempt to clear the massive backlog of genocide cases has involved weekly hearings over nine years in many communities. For many Rwandans, this has meant hearing repeatedly highly emotive testimony concerning brutal crimes. Gacaca has consequently increased levels of trauma among many of its participants.

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