The burnt-out classroom in the Kabgayi hospital is a reminder of the 1994 genocide, during which thousands of Tutsis were murdered in the city. A mass grave has been located next to the hospital ever since. After invading, however, the Tutsi rebels killed numerous Hutus, including three Catholic bishops. Several studies address the attempts to come to terms with this difficult-to-comprehend mass murder.
Credit: Adam Jones / CC BY-SA
"The light will eventually overcome the darkness of genocide.” These are the words on the banner of the memorial at the university in Butare, the cultural center of the country near Kigali. Nearly 250 such memorials commemorate the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But the country in Africa is far from democratic states. In an article from 2018, the peace and conflict researcher Julia Viebach draws mixed conclusions on the country’s efforts to come to terms with its past.
In the early 1990s, Rwanda was shaken by a civil war that culminated in a devastating genocide in April 1994. An explosive mix of hasty democratization, socio-economic shocks and fear that the invading Tutsi rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) would seize power created the breeding ground for civil war and genocide. With its invasion, the RPF sought to forcibly assert its claim to participate in the reorganization of the political system. Fearing repression and massacres, members of the Tutsi minority had continuously fled to neighboring countries since the 1960s. The ruling Hutu elites took advantage of this tense situation to create unrest and to incite a genocide against Tutsis that lasted more than a hundred days.
Click here to access the entire text (German).
After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison
A project at the Department of Modern History at the University of Würzburg
Instagram: After the dictatorship
With financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
Following the genocide in Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) issued exactly 75 sentences. Given the estimated 200,000 murderers and at least 800,000 murder victims, this is a very small number. This is why the Rwanda government decided to have lay courts (Gacaca) in the villages judge the accused. This procedure met with criticism because it was often not possible to guarantee the rule of law. In spite of this, in a study by the Swiss Institute of Federalism, the lawyer Lea Tanner views the criminal prosecution efforts positively.
In her paper the author describes the work of the International Criminal Tribunal and the Gacaca courts. She notes that the greatest weakness of the ICTR was its physical distance to Rwanda, which resulted in a low level of acceptance by the people of Rwanda. The court convened in Arusha in neighboring Tanzania. The Gacaca courts, on the other hand, could not guarantee the defendants all procedural rights and had also to deal with false statements. Much, however, was achieved: The establishment of the ICTR demonstrated that the international community does not accept genocide. The lay courts, on the other hand, made it possible for the many detainees to receive a speedy trial and they also did their part in helping the country achieve reconciliation. Click here to see the author’s study (German).