“Justice in Rwanda,” an Internews project that has been producing and showing newsreel films about the process of justice for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, has improved Rwandans’ understanding of what happened and how the perpetrators are being tried, according to a recent report.

The report, produced by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and funded by the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, found, “The qualitative research with officials who have worked with Internews and with prisoners and other people who have watched the newsreels is extremely positive . . . People told us that the films helped them to understand that the genocide actually happened and that it happened throughout the country.”

Internews’ documentary newsreels cover the three-part justice system for the Rwandan genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed. This system includes the United Nations International War Crimes Tribunal, the national courts and the community-based system called gacaca.

By touring the country and organizing free showings in villages and prisons around the country, Internews has shown these documentaries to more than 200,000 Rwandans over the last four years, including over 80,000 prisoners accused of war crimes.

The ICTJ report said, “People said that they had never had an opportunity to see the actual functioning of the courts and that seeing that the important officials in the former government were on trial had a big impact on them. Some people also cited examples of how the films helped to deal with community problems.”

The vice mayor for social affairs in Karaba, Gikongoro told ICTJ, “I can say that the population is happy to have watched the film and that it helps them get ready for gacaca . . . . The population is ready to tell the truth and to speak. Your film helped to affirm that the genocide happened in Rwandan and that everyone was there.”

An employee of a survivors’ organization said, “The films encourage people to discuss how they can contribute to unity and reconciliation.”

Internews produces an average of one newsreel per month, which consists of three news segments of ten to fifteen minutes each. Each story deals with a different topic related to justice and reconciliation in Rwanda, such as the progress of the gacaca process, the facts related to one of the accused at the ICTR, debate over the death penalty in Rwanda, and relations between survivors and released prisoners.

These films are screened for national leaders in Kigali and in public screenings in rural areas throughout the country and in all of the country’s prisons. Screenings are followed by open discussions led by an Internews moderator, often with participation by local and regional officials. In addition to the screenings, copies of the films in Kinyarwanda and English are widely distributed to government officials, non-governmental organizations, Rwandan and international judicial officials, and the international community.

Showing the newsreels in prisons is especially important as prisoners lack regular access to news. The films help prisoners understand their situation and their legal rights, as well as the ramifications of their actions. One prisoner in Gikongoro said, “There were things [in the film] that reminded me of what happened in 1994. That made me ashamed, and I don’t want this to repeat itself ever again.”

In one case in Rushaki, Byumba, showing the newsreel helped to defuse a conflict that was brewing among secondary school students. Rushaki is in a region that was controlled by the Rwandan Patriotic Front and therefore did not experience the genocide. According to the vice-mayor for youth, there were conflicts among students in the school between those who were paying their own way, those who had scholarships as genocide survivors, and those who had scholarships because they had been refugees. Those who paid their own way criticized those who were on scholarship.

“The survivors said, but your parents killed ours. People in our district didn’t know enough about the genocide. When they saw this film, they said, “What has been said on the radio is true.” They saw people who had admitted that they had done wrong and confessed. This is why the mayor decided to show the film here. That helped to diminish the conflict. The students were able to talk about what really happened.”

The newsreels can be viewed on the Internews Rwanda web site. The project has been funded by grants to Internews Europe and Internews Network from, the European Union, The Royal Embassy of the Netherlands, the US Agency for International Development, and the Samuel Rubin Foundation.

This project, which began showing newsreels to Rwandans in 2001, will be closed down at the end of July 2005 when funding runs out.

>From 1998 to 2002, Internews supplied the only regular English-language print news coverage of the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha, distributing stories to international media on the political complexities and often precedent-setting legal decisions of this unusual institution.

Angela Nicoara, Internews Rwanda Country Director


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