By Geoffrey Mutagoma,
KIGALI – On the eve of the year 2003 Rwandan president Paul Kagame issued a presidential decree which would see 18,000 prisoners released from Rwandan jails a month later.
The condition for release was confession to the crimes committed. The Government hoped that their release would ease overcrowding in prisons and foster reconciliation around the country.
The former prisoners were transferred to solidarity camps for re-education, pending their release back into the communities in May 2003. In the four months they stayed in the solidarity camps, over seven hundred were re-arrested and sent back to prison. One of those sent back to prison was Everest Murangira.
“We were re-arrested on Sunday, one day before completing our re-education. They told us to go with wheel-barrows and collect food from the village. I was wearing my sports clothes; we used to go for exercise every morning. We went with a policeman, who asked: ‘Where are you going to get food? We have traveled a long distance!’ We said we didn’t know. When we reached the Sector offices we were put inside a cell,” he narrates.
Jason Munyampeta is another prisoner who was released. He says that up to now he does not know why he was put back in prison. Johnson Busingye, the secretary General of the Ministry of Justice, says that the prisoners know fully well why they were re-arrested. Mostly it has to do the fact that they made partial confessions before being released, and they have been caught hiding some of the crimes they committed.
“There was new evidence against them either in the solidarity camps or back home; that’s one reason. Another group of people were arrested for committing other crimes, such as selling or using marijuana, or for violence and so on. As citizens, they are under the law and have to answer to any such charges.”
Some of the new evidence that led to re-arrests was published in a report by IBUKA, the association for genocide survivors. According to Jean Bosco Gasherebuka, the Secretary general of IBUKA, people who have not fully confessed to their role in genocide should not be released because they remain a threat to those who survived it.
“Some of these people (who were released) have confessed to their crimes. That’s good, because if they really want to be forgiven and to return home, they pose no problem. But others, released after false or incomplete confessions, pose a problem. They don’t wish to rejoin their community, to interact. Sometimes, they retain genocidal ideologies, causing some genocide survivors to fear for their own security again. Reintegrating them can cause problems in the community,” he notes.
Jean Mulinda is one of those re-arrested for hiding some if his crimes. He is Kimironko prison, a few kilometers outside the Rwandan capital Kigali.
“A member of the local defense staff found me at home. He told me the sector coordinator had asked for me. When I came, I never saw the coordinator. His secretary was also nearby and didn’t say anything. I was just taken (to jail) by the local defense staff,” he alleges.
Although Mulinda claims he has no idea why he was re-arrested, Cassia Banyagasani, the government administrative Secretary of his local area, believes he is lying when he says so.
“The Gacaca council of Musiga sector convened to discuss his case. They concluded that his confession was incomplete and that he should be re-arrested. It is not the Sector administration that imprisoned him but the Gacaca court. When Gacaca decides that someone should be imprisoned, they send them to the Sector headquarters. We have security guards who hand them to the police and subsequently to prisons, where they should be detained,” he explains.
Alphonsine Nyirantashya heads the Gacaca court which decided Jean Mulinda should be re-arrested.
“First of all, we found that his confession was incomplete. Some crimes he admits but others he denies. He committed crimes in this Sector and the one adjacent. Second, we found out that he is a category I genocidaire (suspects deemed to have planned and orchestrated the massacres),” she said.
“Article 51 (C) accuses him of participation in massacres and of encouraging others to do the same. We decided to send him back to prison,” she added.
The release of Jean Mulinda created problems because as a category I suspect he was not entitled to be released and many survivors were shocked.
“There is an old woman who saw him before Gacaca and was traumatized. We noticed it when she started saying that she’d forgiven him, because even the government forgave him. Then she broke down in tears and fainted. We found out he could not live in harmony with the local people. Knowing he was actually Category I, he could even have run away if we had not imprisoned him,” Nyirantashya explains.
In post-genocide Rwanda, justice is key to reconciliation. The Unity and Reconciliation Commission says it is watching carefully to see how prisoners who are released interact with their communities. Or not, as Alex Rusagara, an advocacy officer in the commission, notes.
“Sending people back to prison does not undermine reconciliation. We believe true reconciliation should be based on justice. In fact, re-arrests actually help reconciliation, because if a prisoner is released but has not fully confessed, it’s more of a problem if he returns into his community than if he returns to prison,” he says.
Nine years ago, reconciliation in Rwanda seemed unlikely, if not impossible. Today, it is perhaps the most pressing issue and as former prisoners go home and meet the families of those they killed, the truth becomes the only way in which the society can face itself once more.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Internews Justice and Rwanda Project