Eleven years have elapsed since genocide in Rwanda claimed more than a million lives. But government officials worry that the ideas which led to those terrible events may still exist throughout Rwanda and in neighboring countries too.
There is no specific law in Rwanda concerning the actual ideas – or ideology – of genocide.
Instead, there are laws aimed at stopping the crime of genocide, to stop crimes against humanity and war crimes. There is also a law forbidding discrimination and sectarianism – or narrow-minded intolerance of other communities. In other words, Rwandan law – in general if not specific terms – rules against ideas which might lead to genocide.
Some international experts say such a legal framework is encouraging, but could be improved. “These laws are in conformity with the international law and Rwandan legislation is in fact quiet good even though the sanctions are a bit strict comparing to let’s say , European countries. The law that needs a little bit more attention is the law on crimes of discrimination and sectarianism”, says Prof. Gerhard Werle of Humboldt University of Berlin.
A prosecutor with national jurisdiction, Esperance Nyirasafari, says that despite the last ten years of relative peace in Rwanda, the ideology of genocide is not going away. Quite the opposite, perhaps. “The problem of the ideology of genocide has escalated not only in Rwanda but also in some parts of the great lakes region. In Rwanda, the ideology is in several parts of the country. It is indicated by acts of discrimination, verbal attacks against the survivors of genocide or any potential witness in genocide trials, burning of their houses, killing of their livestock and sometimes killing people”, explains Nyirasafari
In January 2004, a Parliamentary Commission began investigating the killings of genocide survivors in Kaduha, Gikongoro province, south west of Rwanda. It also tried to find out how many people were encouraging or might be vulnerable to genocide ideology.
Led by Rwandan MP Francois Munyurangabo, the investigating Commission reported to Rwanda’s Parliament in June 2004. That report said the roots of genocide ideology in Rwanda can be traced back to the 1920s: “How old is ideology? In our research, we found out that the ideology of genocide started with the arrival of colonialists. When they arrived here, they started the system of divide and rule, meaning they had to divide people. This is when they started the process of allowing some children to go to school and denying others to join. People started to understand that there was injustice. This became more serious towards the independence in 1960s, when they said that let’s see the power of the majority locally known as Rubanda Nyamwinshi”, elaborates Francois Munyurangabo.
But unfair social policies don’t always lead to genocide. Yet in Rwanda, they did. Jean Charles Paras, a French lawyer representing Penal Reform International in Rwanda, says just as genocide requires a specific definition, so do the evil ideas behind it. “We all know that genocide is a number of acts like murders, rape, deportations which are done with a special intentions of destroying totally or partly a group of people for racial, religion, and so on. So when these crimes, murders, rape deportations are done with this special intent, you are before a genocide. So, ideology of genocide is a political vision which is linked with that target organizing genocide”, explains Paras.
If genocide starts with evil ideas, how and when does a democracy intervene on the expression of such ideas? This is a tricky question, and was the subject of a recent conference in Kigali, organized by the office of Rwanda’s Prosecutor General and a German NGO specializing in law, GTZ-Justice.
Expert speakers came to Kigali from all over Rwanda and abroad to talk about how law can prevent not just the spread of evil ideas, but at the same time protect our right as individuals, to say what we think.
“What we are discussing here is how you limit these laws so that they do not interfere with the freedom of speech and political freedoms. So you must find a balance between the freedom of opinion and the fight against propaganda of genocide”, says Prof. Werle of Humboldt University.
In Rwanda, at present, anyone who spreads sectarianism or socially-divisive ideas might find themselves in jail for between one to five years, and also fined between five hundred to two thousand dollars.
The law forbids any sectarian speeches, images or symbols, on TV or on radio, or in a meeting or a public place, designed to discriminate against people or to sow seeds of sectarianism among them. So, does the law work? It seems maybe yes, maybe no.
“The principal of these laws is good in itself but unfortunately some of the provisions of mainly the law against discrimination and sectarianism are not clear enough and should be clarified for better understanding by the population and also by the judicial actors who have to apply those laws”, says Paras of PRI.
Looking at the larger picture, is it really true that the ideology of genocide lingers on in Rwanda, almost eleven years after the slaughter of 1994?
Let’s look closer and try to find out.
This is Byumba, a busy little town in northern Rwanda, a couple of hours drive from Kigali. Usually, the air feels clean and fresh up here. But is it really?
Some of the people who live here say they have no idea of what the phrase ‘ideology of genocide’ actually means. Others say they’ve have heard Government warnings on the radio and from their local community leaders.
“Ideology of genocide doesn’t exist any more. It had come back but it was fought against until it’s now done with”, comments one resident.
“It exists but there are just a few people with the ideology of genocide. I have no right to mention their names but there are still people with intentions to rekindle the ideology of genocide and divisionism”, says another resident.
“That word! I am old enough, I am 45 years old. It has just started? I don’t know. I need to know, when did it start?”, questions a local resident.
“The ideology of genocide surely, we don’t have it here in Byumba town. Whether it is politics, what ever it is, we don’t clearly understand it”, adds a local resident.
However, according to the Ministry of Education, all is not well in these parts of the country. Following tip-offs from police and school inspectors, it launched an inquiry in the matter.
After six months work, the Ministry of Education filed its report in October 2004. The results came as a shock to many people. That Ministry said there were more teachers spreading genocidal ideas in Byumba province, than in any other provinces of Rwanda.
In all, fifty seven people in eight provinces were accused of spreading genocide ideology.
Twenty nine school staff (including directors) and twenty eight students including senior six candidates aged between 17 and 19 were suspended, during the exam semester.
“What had worried me is that some students were suspected to have poisoned other students. I don’t know if it would be better if a child was killed. Any time we realize that security of students is at stake, we take immediate decision. Any one who thinks that he or she has been wronged in this regard can file a case in court”, says the Minister of Education, Prof. Romain Murenzi.
In other words, the nine month investigation may have made some mistakes, and if so, they can be looked into. But prevention now, is better than cure.
“I think that the order by the ministry to suspend teachers and students was a preventive strategy in that if the student or the teacher is not stopped immediately might lead to something very bad. I think that the prevention measure is very necessary in the fight against the ideology of genocide”, says State Prosecutor Esperance Nyirasafari.
But was it fair to name and punish the accused, in public?
“What I can say based on international principals; many people have been surprised by the fact that the accusations against these students and teachers have been done publicly. There are some legal principals which have to be applied to respect the rights of every body. The Inquiry process should be a secret one”, says the PRI representative
As it turned out, the public accusations were in some cases unjustified. Three months after the Parliamentary Commission’s Report was published, about half of all the suspended staff and students were declared innocent by Rwanda’s judicial authorities.
“I am still the director of TTC Bicumbi although I was accused of divisionism. But judicial authorities did their job and cleared me. I am innocent”, confirms Enock Ntihemuka, the director of Bicumbi Teacher Training Centre.
All nine people from Bicumbi College, including seven students, have also been cleared of any wrong-doing.
“We are happy for the decision by the judicial authorities which declared us innocent. It is evident that Justice in Rwanda is competent because we are truly innocent”, sdds Enock Ntihemuka.
The Director of Rebero College in Byumba province, Pascal Basigayabo, was among those suspended during the investigation into genocidal ideology in schools. He was also cleared of allegations against him, but has not been allowed to return to his post.
“I am quite aware of the issue of Pascal Basigayabo. He was the Director of Rebero College and he was dismissed from the school in June along with the school’s patron and those in charge of academic affairs and discipline. This happened after it was realized that they had ignored and failed to solve problems of divisionism among students. The student and parents would not trust them again”, says Pascal Rwayitare, the provincial education coordinator.
Pascal Basigayabo is no longer a school director. He is a teacher at Ecole des Sciences Infirmiere in Byumba town. We visited this school but he was not available for comment.
As regards those found to have been spreading genocidal ideology, some students say those people had made life truly difficult for others in the classroom.
‘There is a boy in my class who had intended to drag me into the issue of ideology of genocide. He asked me to join his group in doing homework; I told him that I have already done my own homework. He reacted by saying that you have looked down upon us! Who ever that cut your face did not cut it enough. He should have hacked you to death”, complains Ndayishimye Leonard, a student at Rebero College.
So, what can a young democracy like Rwanda do about people – including school children – who may carry such grudges inside them?
“The ideology of genocide still exists and there is no doubt about that. I think the Rwandan government does need our help in fighting the ideology of genocide, but I think help is needed in order to balance the fight against the ideology and to defend the liberty of expression. Because reconciliation only can be there if there is a possibility to speak about all’, says Dieter Magsam, representative of GTZ-Justice in Rwanda
These days in Byumba province, following the controversy in local schools, strategies are underway to stop genocide ideology spreading among students and teachers.
“Like directors of schools in this province, we called for seminars in which we could discuss problems facing education including the fight against ideology of genocide. In a four day meeting, we resolved to join forces in combating the ideology and divisionism in schools. We are determined to do that’, says Ndayizeye Anastase, the new Director of Rebero College.
But people with evil ideas can be equally determined. Why? And equally important, we can ask: where do their evil ideas come from?
Some people believe genocidal ideas were, ironically, rekindled in Rwanda, during last year’s 10th anniversary commemorations.
“When students went back to school after the event there was a lot of trauma among the survivors of genocide. This took place in many parts of the country as you can remember. This was followed by circulation of tracts which scared students even more. It was also evident in some schools where some teachers intentionally traumatized students for example, by calling the survivors to stand up and get counted and things like that. This information was contained in reports from the schools’ inspectors and police. So one can say, it started in April or May”, narrates Murenzi
According to Rwandan law, the Ministry of Education can suspend school staff or students for a period of 6 months. But why did the Ministry decide to do that during the crucial exam period, and before being completely sure who was guilty or not?
“We reached schools like we reached many other places. Let’s say that ideology of genocide was taught for a long period of time, meaning it is into people’s heads. The problem is that we need to change. It is a process, some people really change and others have resistance against change and these are what we call remnants. It’s not surprising that such remnants are also in schools because students are also Rwandans!”, sys MP Munyurangabo
Despite fears of genocidal ideas on the campus, there is optimism too, that such ideas won’t spread far.
“I think that as students, we should study in unity and work together without discrimination. We should also bear it in our minds that we are all Rwandans and we are one”, advises Mukangoboka Domitilla.
Regarding how a young democracy can work to fight against the ideology of genocide, there are it seems, ways and means, checks and balances.
“Concerning the remedy, the parliamentary commission’s report has about forty pages of only strategies on the prevention of the ideology. The main points here are three. First is education: to give our children the right education, second is dialogue; People in one cell need to sit and expose whoever has malpractices, telling the truth about one another to help the society. The ideology concerns every one even foreigners living here. Thirdly: For those who have failed to change, to talk to them and help them to understand the effects of what they are doing. If they fail, the law would take its course because among the causes of genocide is lack of culture of impunity”, says MP Munyurangabo
This prompts a serious question. If one of the reasons genocidal ideas spread is because people behind such ideas go unpunished, and if that’s what’s happening in Rwanda, as some people fear, what chance national reconciliation and a lasting peace have?
“I think the unity and Reconciliation of Rwandans is still possible. If Rwandans would visit other countries that faced genocide, we are not like Yugoslavia or any other country where people don’t have unifying means. They don’t have leadership and groups that live separately. In Rwanda we don’t have Hutu land or Tutsi land, we settle together. What we can say in general is that we have peace”, says Fatuma Ndangiza, Executive Secretary for Unity and Reconciliation.
In general, maybe, but in particular? But what about the murders of witnesses, before they could testify at the village courts of Gacaca? What about intimidation of witness’s families? Are those who lost in 94 really now at peace with those who killed or participated in 94?
“There are evidences on ground on the successes of the unity and reconciliation in the country. To date there are places one can go and find the genocide prisoners who were released on presidential order working hand in hand with survivors of genocide in building their houses”, points out Fatuma Ndangiza.
So, good news all round? Perhaps, not quite.
As the proverb says, ‘Rome was not built in a day’.
“But like I said there are still a few people who are doing all they can to destroy. If we join efforts we shall over come the destructive force”, adds Fatuma Ndangiza.
Under Rwandan law, anyone who kills plots or tries to kill another person, because of discrimination or sectarianism can expect life imprisonment or the death sentence.
For Rwanda’s sake, many people here and around the world, hope this particular law won’t have to be enforced in future. Why? Because they hope that peace and reconciliation will have made THAT course of action quite unnecessary.