Encounters with conflict and peace

Educating the community

gacaca courts and judges
The government knew that putting the gacaca system in the hands of ordinary people was risky.

So they allowed about two years to develop the system, train the judges and educate the population. Josephine Munyeli was one of the people responsible for explaining the new gacaca process to the community.

"We went out into the community and explained the law, explained the benefits for survivors, the benefits for criminals and the benefit for the community.

We went into prisons and explained the need for healing, for accepting you were wrong and for asking forgiveness. We taught them about the need to see justice done, the need to punish the wrong-doers and the benefits of being forgiven - it was all provided for in gacaca law."

A test run: dramatic results

“We started bringing prisoners into the villages as a test for gacaca. They were brought back into the communities where they had been living so that the people could see them and say, “this one is innocent, this one did this, this one did that…” And even in that quick process some people were released from prison.

"But the prisoners could see the audience too, and they’d point to people and say, “Why is that person not in prison? You’re asking us to tell the truth about who did these things and here they are among you! We were together in the killings."
Josephine Munyeli, Rwanda
“Whoever confessed would see their penalty reduced, because you cannot confess and remain the same. Confessing is something that changes people.”


"When the gacaca started properly we took an inventory of the people who were living in the community, the people who were killed, the way they were killed and the people who saw it. We got a picture of the community.

"And whoever confessed would see their penalty reduced, because you cannot confess and still remain the same. You know, confessing is something that changes people. Some people confessed just to get a reduced sentence, but the community sees that and if they decide you are not telling the truth, your confession is not accepted.”

Gacaca judges, Rwanda

Inyangamugayo: the judges

As gacaca was being set up in 2001, across 11,000 local communities 250,000 local judges were chosen. To be a gacaca judge, you had to be a Rwandan national over 21 years old with no criminal convictions; you had to be known as an honest, trustworthy person; you could NOT be a government official, a trained judge or lawyer or a member of the police force, the armed services or the clergy. About 35% of the gacaca judges chosen were women.
gacaca and reconciliation
The gacaca courts met every week until the program was completed in 2010. So for most gacaca judges that has meant that, for many years they have spent one day every week, unpaid, listening to evidence and making rulings on genocide crimes in their communities.

The government is now looking at ways to use all that experience and leadership in other areas of public administration, including the ‘ordinary’ legal system, handling non-genocide related crimes.
Related pages
My friend the killer
Before the genocide, Josephine became friends with one of the interahamwe militia. "I ran into a group of them armed with machetes and grenades. They started pushing me around...
A good man
Josephine tells the story of how her father was killed during the genocide.
"We know you're a good person but we have orders to kill you, so this is what we're going to do...
An overloaded justice system
Josephine was part of a team which educated communities about the need for a new restorative justice system. “Traditionally, when someone did something bad, he was brought to the community to explain what he had done - and why he did it - and the community would decide how to deal with that.” ...
Making amends for murder
Josephine lost more than sixty relatives in the genocide. How do you do justice for that, she asks...
Long term effects of genocide
Josephine said, "What is being done in the healing work is like a drop in the ocean. So there are still people who haven’t yet been given the opportunity to talk about their stories and now, after more than 10 years, it is becoming too much..."
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