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Rwanda Minister: ‘Eye for eye’ would have left 'very many' blind

April 3rd, 2014
03:34 PM ET

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.”

Why 'eye for eye' couldn't work in Rwanda

“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 warns against repeat elsewhere

“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.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Rwanda
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. XYZ

    Thanks for this article! 'We need' the minister says and he tells something about a society that is distroyed first and after the removal of unwelcomed citizens, built up a new. A political opposition doesn't exist and people from Rwanda have to live in foreign countries all over the world and are not able to see their country and home towns, because of fear. They found asylum and don't know what to do with it and what to make out of their chances, because it can never regain the loss. It is very difficult to try to understand the situation for asylum-seekers in Europe coming out of Rwanda. I just heard that Rwanda-people face problems being accepted in neigbouring countries like Kenyia and South-Africa. Rwanda-people don't understand the law in Europe that tries to deal with war-crime accused prisioners of Rwanda and have a sceptical and very negative view about other people coming and dealing with their problems. They seem to be of of tribal sorts, hidden prejudice and internal envie and crimes in Congo areas, where revenge and all this came up. So there is much hate and grief and even aggression. I think – from a german perspective – Germany had genocide, too – it is wrong to show the choclate-side profite and well-behaving of a totally traumatized society. You can't offer prayer to reconcilate people and go on, as nothing had happened, with luxery, an oeconomic miracle and improved health-care. Germany was built up with the Marshal-Plan and financial aid, but it takes more than three generations to overcome wars like this. Rwanda had a strong authority position and people were used to obey – either they had killed, or they would have been killed: you have no real choice! It was an extreme situation and of course the sun shines again, but every individual who was involved, will suffer. Rwanda ought to change the structure of the country and its educational system, to become a real democracy. But it will take time – three generations! And it would be helpful, if rape as a war-tactical measure is banned from the world and army generals who allow this to happened, are brought to the International Court.

    April 4, 2014 at 3:43 am | Reply
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