More than 40 genocide convicts who were tried under the Gacaca traditional legal system have evaded justice and continue to pose a threat to survivors and witnesses, according to the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG).
The Commission said the fugitives were either tried in absentia or escaped during trial at the traditional courts, which were established in 2002 to help try millions of people who participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Details of the fugitives were provided in the CNLG’s annual report, presented in parliament recently.
The commission said most crimes against survivors — which tend to happen towards the commemoration period in April — are committed by the convicts or their relatives.
“The crimes, which include murder, vandalism and assault against genocide survivors are committed by relatives of convicts seeking revenge or the fugitives who want to eliminate witnesses,” CNLG executive secretary Jean Damascene Bizimana, told Rwanda Today.
Dr Bizimana said the commission was working with the police and security agencies to get the convicts, most of whom had changed their identity and relocated to districts where they could not easily be identified by residents.
“It is difficult to find them but we have managed to identify some of them in Nyagatare District, where they had resettled. We need to revisit Gacaca and ensure that everyone who was tried serves their sentence,” he added.
Dr Bizimana gave the example of a convict who changed his name and even successfully registered as a survivor under the Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG) for many years without being detected.
He was assisted with free tuition, housing, medical and psychotherapy care until FARG found out about him after reviewing its systems. He was forced by court to pay all the funds as well as serve his sentence.
Another case involves an ongoing trial at the Nyamirambo Intermediate Court of a woman only identified as Nyirankundabanyanga.
She had been sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison for crimes committed during the genocide, but had for years managed to evade justice by changing her name to Nkundabanyanga.
She worked as a trader until her arrest three years ago and now faces additional charges of giving false information.
Many convicts like her still move freely around the country, according to FARG, and are still capable of committing heinous crimes, as well as spreading genocide ideologies within their communities.
As many as 193 cases of genocide ideology and revision were reported in this year’s commemoration period, while 270 survivors experienced different forms of injustice including violence, trauma, and lack of housing and education.
Last year, the genocide tracking unit said it was pursuing more than 640 genocide suspects globally, majority of whom were hiding in Africa.
Although suspects are once in a while deported to Rwanda to face justice from as far as Europe, the country has cited frustration in getting more countries to co-operate in arresting fugitives.
Meanwhile, CNLG said overcoming trauma among genocide survivors remains a difficult task, with many still struggling with physical and psychological wounds due to the horrors they experienced.
The Commission’s chairperson, Emmanuel Havugimana, said a study examining the effects of trauma and how special efforts can be applied to overcome it, will be conducted and released next June.