17 May 2014

Rwanda: Mending the Fences - Simbi Genocide Convicts Paying With Manual Labour

WHEN JEAN PIERRE KARENZI was released from prison in 2005 after spending 10 years behind bars for his role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, he found himself faced with another big challenge: natural justice was asking him to pay reparations for the victims of his evil acts.

But his financial muscle was too stretched to afford to compensate even one-tenth of what he was supposed to pay.

For years, Karenzi thought his small plot of land would be auctioned to compensate the damages he caused when he joined other militiamen in the killing and looting spree 20 years ago.

Although he remained unsure of how to raise enough money to pay for the reparation of his evil acts, Karenzi says he always believed it was important for him to atone for his crimes.

After discussions with other perpetrators and in consultation with Genocide survivors, a rather accommodating method was agreed up on-the perpetrators were to pay for the reparation with community work.

Team work:

About five years ago, a group bringing together Genocide convicts who had served their sentences and some of the family members of those jailed for the crimes, was founded in the remote Simbi Sector in the southern Huye District.

Currently, the association, named Tubasubize Icyubahiro, boasts about 60 members who have teamed up to try and pay the compensation for the crimes they or their relatives committed during the Genocide.

It is divided into smaller sub-groups of about 10 individuals each who work together.

Every Tuesday and Friday, members of the group meet early in the morning and head to work in a designated survivor's farm.

Their labour is then 'monetised' and recorded in a book that is regularly updated.

The work continues until the compensation is fully covered through the manual labour.

In case those to be compensated do not have any work to be done, the group members look for odd jobs in other people's fields or elsewhere and the money they are paid are used for the compensation.

"If we chose to compensate our victims with labour, it is because it was the only option we had," Karenzi says. "Our capacity didn't allow us to pay for the damages otherwise."

"Those who claim to be lacking capacity to compensate their victims are ignoring the fact that there are always several options to solve an issue. Our own approach is one of them and it has proved very helpful."

Reparation necessary:

"What is important is to humbly approach those we offended, talk to them and come to a common agreement on which procedure to use," Karenzi says.

The ex-convict adds that there cannot be real justice and true reconciliation without compensation.

"It is a responsibility we have. We have done evil and this [compensation] is the least we can do to try and mend the damages we caused. For this, you can even give out all your property to at least build proper relations with those we offended," he says.

Francine Mushimiyimana, 45, whose husband played a role in the Genocide, was among those who joined the association shortly after it was created.

"It was my own decision. I was pushed by my conscience to act because I believed it was a responsibility I had," she says. "These people deserved to be indemnified. I felt that need. But I had nothing else to offer except my hands."

Harmony and development:

Mushimiyimana says she has paid her dues in full-thanks to the initiative. Other members of her association have also managed to compensate their victims while a few are in the final stages of rounding up the process.

What is common among them is that they now laud the initiative as having been a 'magic bullet' that allowed them to pay for the damages they had caused.

"Without this initiative, we would not have come close to compensating our victims. I am now a free man," Karenzi says.

Apart from contributing to bolstering the reconciliation drive, compensation is crucial in creating social harmony in communities, Karenzi argues.

"You can't peg a price on the evil we caused. But once you sincerely apologise and you show the willingness to pay the little you are required to, then survivors will get to look at you and say, 'this is a genuine apology,'" Karenzi says.

Members of the association are now shifting their focus from that activity alone to include working for mutual socio-economic development.

They have even started taking in other members of the community.

Together, they take turns working in one another's farms, something they say is improving their production and revenues and improving their lives.

"We make one people working to achieve improved living conditions and committed to promoting harmonious relations among us," says Noel Nyabyenda, 30.

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