19 November 2012

Rwanda: Human Rights Body Seeks Revision of Genocide Witness Protection Units

An anti-genocide and human rights organisation, REDRESS, has released an analytical report on genocide witness protection units in Rwanda criticised for their insistence on condition of anonymity which does not "protect witnesses from re-traumatisation."

The genocide witness protection programme is under the auspices of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda's (ICTR).

Rwanda established the Victim and Witness Support Unit (VWSU) in 2006 following the murder of more than 150 Genocide survivors who were targeted after testifying against suspects. Some Genocide suspects who testified against their colleagues were also targeted. The report commends the first protection unit indicating that it has partly contributed to the healing and reconciliation process among survivors and perpetrators.

A second witness protection unit was set up in 2008 on orders of the Supreme Court.

The REDRESS report says that the second unit was forced on Rwanda by the ICTR and the western countries to have Genocide suspects transferred to Rwanda. It says that the unit does not help survivors recover but instead creates lasting tensions among people. It further says that the unit does not "protect witnesses from re-traumatisation.

The group further says that the second unit is ineffective as it requires anonymity of the witness which does not help with healing and repentance of the survivors and the perpetrators respectively.

"...the emphasis on anonymity in Rwanda's draft witness protection law clashes with some witnesses' desire for communal acknowledgement through public testimony and the fact that anonymity is often difficult to ensure on the hills of Rwanda," reads the report.

It also adds that, "While this represented a necessary recognition of the extent of judicial reform in Rwanda, the wholesale adoption by Rwanda of the ICTR's approach to witness protection is problematic."

"In particular, the establishment of a second witness protection unit under the auspices of the Supreme and High Court provided a quick response to the ICTR's critiques. In practice, however, it would seem to be more constructive to establish, through legislation, a single independent witness protection unit with a separate budget and the resources to establish a trauma counselling section," REDRESS adds in its findings.

As the focus of post-genocide justice shifts from the ICTR and Gacaca to the Rwandan national courts, according to REDRESS, the need for witness protection will continue, along with the need to balance security for witnesses with the realities of Rwanda and its tight-knit communities, and the perceived benefits of open and public testimony about the genocide.

Genocide survivors interviewed said they preferred to have a system that allows them to speak the truth openly and contributes to their recovery. The convicts also said they believed speaking openly helps them reintegrate more easily into the community.

The group urges the International Residual Mechanism which will replace the ICTR to recognise the opposition of the victims and witnesses to "anonymity as a central protection measure".

REDRESS also calls on government to devise a long-term psycho-social support to survivors of the genocide and victims of related abuses once the two witness protection programs have been merged.

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