Rwanda: Gacaca Archives Proposed for Unesco's Heritage List

GACACA COURTS archives could be registered to UNESCO's Documentary Heritage Listing on the recommendation of a national committee that is set to assess and discern different historical, cultural and documentary heritages that can be listed on the World's heritage list.

The committee is composed of different institutions under the guidance of Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO, librarians, archivists, directors of memory institutions, historians, researchers, academics and individual resources from civil society, private and public institutions working or interested in historical, cultural and documentary heritages.

Documentary heritage is a fundamental inheritance of culture and historical memory that must be transmitted to future generations in the best possible condition and archives are the centres responsible for dealing with, conserving and spreading the word about this heritage.

Boxes that contain the genocide archives in a storeroom in Kigali. Photo: File.

The UNESCO's Memory of the World program was initiated in 1992 with the aim of preserving the richness of different states which were threatened by wars, inadequate preservation systems, illegal trading like the one for the Maya cultural statuettes, lack of resources, looting and dispersal, destruction among others.

The programme seeks to preserve, protect, safeguard human documentary heritage against collective amnesia, neglect, and the ravages of time and climate conditions.

Among the documentary heritages that have been proposed by historians, archivists and researchers is Gacaca Justice System, according to Albert Mutesa, the Secretary General of Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO.

After the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi where over one million people were killed, Rwanda initiated the Gacaca courts to handle to handle genocide crimes,

Gacaca is a home-grown community based justice system.

Through Gacaca Courts, Rwandans proved the capacity to solve their own problems, to mend the social fabric, revealed the truth about the Genocide; which had been prepared for a long-time.

Moreover, Gacaca Courts were used as one of the ways to eradicate impunity and a lesson to respect human rights, especially the right to life and equality of all Rwandans before the law.

Gacaca justice system officially closed in 2012, after trying more than 1.9 million Genocide crimes in ten years.

To preserve Gacaca as National Documentary Heritage, scanning and digitalising of Gacaca court archives have successfully been completed.

Other initiatives proposed

Beata Nyirabahizi, the Director General of National Library which is part of Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy (RCHA), said that there are many documentary heritages that can be registered to UNESCO heritage listing.

Some of the documentary heritages we have already discussed include Inganji Kalinga, she said.

For close to 1000 years, Rwanda was governed by kings.

In his book entitled "Inganji Kalinga", Alex Kagame reveals the names of all the kings who ruled Rwanda from 970 until 1961 when the monarchy was abolished.

"Another national documentary heritage that has been suggested is The King's Palace (Urukari). Urukari tells the life of kings in ancient times. The way the palace is constructed also reflects homes or model of construction which Rwandans used to like in Rwandan culture," she said.

The King Mutara III Rudahigwa's Palace offers a detailed look into the Rwandan monarchical system and its abolition in the early 1960s due to colonialism.

Under the reign of King Yuhi V Musinga in 1899, Nyanza became the royal capital of the country.

The palace is currently home to traditional items, long-horned royal cows "Inyambo" that form an integral part of the Rwanda Culture.

The cows were initially the King's symbol of prestige.

Visitors are always fascinated by the procession of these royal cows which are famous for their impressive longhorns, height, gentle nature and the traditional poems.

Along the traditional palace is the 1931 modern palace where King Rudahigwa resided until he passed away in 1959 and it now serves to display Rwanda history from the 15th century.

On the neighbouring hill of Mwima, one can also visit the mausoleum where King Rudahigwa, his wife Queen Rosalie Gicanda and King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa were laid to rest.

Rwanda had started to the process of register genocide memorials on UNESCO heritage list.

Nyirabahizi said the set up national committee will help to assess all heritages that Rwanda can register on the list.

Albert Mutesa, the Secretary General of Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO, said that that some documentary heritages that talk about Rwandan history are written and preserved in libraries.

"There is a long list of archives and documentary heritages that have been suggested. The committee will work on that," he said.

He cited an example of Umuganura also called the National Harvest Day or Thanksgiving Day.

It is the Rwanda's traditional feast celebrating the first harvest which was used as a platform to assess the harvest for that particular year and find ways of even doubling efforts for the coming year.

He added that Intore-the inherited style of traditional dance that is told using the rhythm of Rwandan drums and the moves of Rwandan dancers has also been suggested.

"The Rwandan people and their culture have a very rich history that can be listed on World Heritage List. The committee will work on identifying the existing documentary heritage in Rwanda to be registered on the Memory of the World program," he said.

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