Rwanda’s post-genocide community courts focus of One World film My Neighbor, My Killer

My Neighbor, My Killer, which is being screened at the One World festival of human rights documentaries in Prague, focuses on local tribunals called Gacaca set up following the horrific 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Under the Gacaca system, the victims give testimony in front of their communities against the perpetrators, who in many cases live alongside them. I asked the film’s Anne Aghion what had drawn her to the subject.

Anne AghionAnne Aghion “I’ve been working in Rwanda for 10 years now. I first went because I met several justice officials from Rwanda who were travelling in the United States. I remember very distinctly the night I met them. They told me about the Gacaca, which was an idea at that point, and I remember thinking immediately, that’s a film.

“It’s interesting, it’s almost like the subject grabs you before you know it. I didn’t know it was going to take 10 years, obviously, but here I am.”

What is the legal status of these Gacaca tribunals? And is it the case that the accused have already been imprisoned?

“It’s a little more complicated than that. Basically, the Gacaca are not quite done yet. I think they’re wrapping up any minute now, in the next couple of months.

'My Neighbor, My Killer''My Neighbor, My Killer' “Over a million people have been tried. A lot of the people who have been sentenced by the Gacaca, or have gone through the Gacaca, have not gone to prison. I would say the majority have not gone to prison…they’re going to do community service, or perhaps go to prison, but mainly not.”

Have these tribunals lead to a diffusion of tension in the local communities, or have they perhaps led to a stirring up of old embers, so to speak?

“The genocide didn’t unfold in a uniform fashion and the Gacaca are not unfolding in a uniform fashion. There’s a lot of local dynamics involved. Whether the Gacaca will in the end work is something we’ll know in a couple of generations.

“Today there are some very well publicised acts of violence in Rwanda, every once in a while. But for the most part everything is under check.”

Is it possible to compare the Gacaca tribunals to mechanisms in other post-conflict states, like for example the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa?

GacacaGacaca “It’s actually very, very different form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. What you have in Rwanda is the most ambitious ever attempt at total justice. There was really a conscious attempt to nail each individual crime to each individual perpetrator. And there’s also sentencing.”