1 July was a very special day in Rwanda as the country celebrated 50 years of independence and 18 years since the end of the Rwandan genocide. Independence from Belgium was obtained on 1 July, 1962 and the genocide ended officially on 4 July, 1994.
This is an important week in Rwanda. It was 50 years ago, on the 1st July 1962, that Rwanda gained its independence. That’s not all, on the 4th July 1994, Rwandans were liberated from the genocidal regime. And it was only last month, the Gacaca courts in Rwanda were officially closed and marked the end of a period of transitional justice.
However, as rightly pointed out by President Paul Kagame in his speech to the nation, on the 1 July 2012, it is only in the last 18 years that the Rwandese people:
have regained the dignity and identity that they lost – first, under colonialism and then, ironically, at the time of independence.
To understand the links between these two periods, the website newsofrwanda.com explained:
March 24th, 1957, Grégoire Kayibanda, with the help of Catholic Bishop Perrudin penned the famous Bahutu manifesto, in which, for the first time a political problem was explained in racial terms, demanding the emancipation of Bahutu and a racial quota system in education and employment.
Margee Ensign, currently president of the American University of Nigeria, discussed the genesis of the Rwandan genocide:
Colonial and religious structures and policies helped lay the foundation for the genocide of 1994, when close to one million people were killed. In 1994, while the international community turned away, the Rwandan Patriotic Front stopped the genocide.
In her feature Margee Ensign added:
Here is what the country looked like in 1994:
- Over one million people — primarily Tutsi — has been massacred
- The infrastructure was decimated.
- Social cohesion was destroyed
- All the country's key sectors — education, agriculture, health, justice and the economy — were obliterated.
In these last 18 years, a lot has been achieved both in terms of reconciliation and socio-economic development.
Being aware of the importance of national reconciliation, it was urgent for the new government to show to the survivors and the international community that justice was being done. To prosecute all those involved in the genocide, estimated at around 2 million people, in the modern judiciary system, it would have required many years. The government introduced the traditional courts called Gacaca in 2001.
Jean Kayigamba explained about Gacaca on newint.org:
During these trials, defendants are given shorter sentences in exchange for confessing and are encouraged to seek forgiveness from the victim’s family. The survivors are also able to finally discover how their loved ones were killed and where their remains had been disposed of.
Will Jones delivered his conclusion on Gacaca's work and achievements:
In June of this year, Rwanda completed an experiment in post-conflict justice without parallel anywhere in the world. Since 2001, roughly 11,000 courts in every corner of Rwanda have been meeting to work through the caseload of crimes left by the Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 Tutsis and their perceived Hutu and Twa allies were systematically murdered. These courts met weekly. They have processed approximately 1.9 million cases –some 400,000 suspected perpetrators of genocide. They have done so at a cost of roughly $40 million dollars.
Since the end of Rwandan genocide, the country has made noticeable socio-economic development. In the field of politics, Rwanda is noted for being the the only country in the world to have more women than men in parliament.
However, Rwanda records on human rights is not so brilliant. In its annual report, submitted in May 2012 to the UN Committee against torture denouncing the use of torture and other ill treatment around the world, Amnesty International pointed the finger to the President Paul Kagame's regime. Discussing the report, jambonews.net wrote:
The organization documented 18 allegations of torture and other ill-treatments. It also outlined cases involving enforced disappearance, unlawful detention, and lack of access to lawyers, family members and medical assistance in contravention to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
Post-independence ethnic divisions and tensions resulted in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. It is estimated that over a million people died in a period of 100 days.