By Mick Krever, CNN
Twenty years after nearly one million Rwandans were slaughtered in just 100 days, Rwandan Justice Minister Busingye Johnston said that the choice of reconciliation over traditional justice was one of necessity.
“We had a complex situation in this country. The genocide that happened in this country – neighbors killed neighbors, friends killed friends, husbands killed wives, parents killed children.”
“If you wanted to have justice where…an eye would go for an eye you would certainly have to remove very many peoples’ eyes.”
“So what we thought that was good for our society was also to heal a broken society, and try to pick up from where we were – try to build a society.”
In the 20 years since its horrific genocide, Rwanda has undergone a startling transformation unseen anywhere in the world.
It has lifted many out of poverty with a staggering 8% annual growth rate. It has improved life expectancy, literacy, education, and health care.
The country has also adopted an official policy of reconciliation in an effort to heal its wounds.
“Rwanda has not recovered, but it has made very good progress,” Busingye said. “Twenty years ago we were a shattered…country. Today we are much better off.”
Much of the credit for that goes to the strong will of President Paul Kagame; but he is also criticized for becoming too much of a strongman, with increasingly authoritarian ways.
Amanpour has interviewed President Kagame, who told her that his government had “always tried to do our best to satisfy the needs of our people and expectations of our people.”
He refused to say whether he would step down from power at the end of his constitutionally limited term of office.
Busingye said that the “classical court system” would not have been able to handle the overflowing number of cases pending after the genocide.
“One hundred and thirty thousand prisoners were in jail waiting to be tried,” he said. “So what we was to devise from our own traditional culture and picked up a system called ‘Gacaca.’ And the Gacaca courts have taken us through 1,958,000 cases in the last ten years.”
“We needed a nation that would move. We needed a people in Rwanda that would work together and coexist and continue living side by side in our countryside.”