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Survivor conflict as ex-convicts troop back into society’s arms

Tuesday April 19 2022
Convicts

The former combatants repatriated from the Democratic Republic of Congo pictured inside the Mutobo Demobilization Camp. PHOTO | Cyril Ndegeya

By Ange Iliza

Survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and human rights organizations are concerned that Rwanda’s hard-earned reconciliation is at stake as genocide convicts complete their sentences and are released back into the community.

According to some survivors, the issue is especially concerning today more than ever because convicts who are getting released today are those who got over 25 years of imprisonment. This means they did not get a reduced jail term because they neither confessed nor admitted to their crimes.

“We were able to forgive and reconcile because most of the perpetrators apologized and proved that they regret ted their misdeeds. But if a convict who has been in prison for over 25 years is released back into society, if they have not fully changed, the ideology and paranoia are likely to get worse,” said Assumpta Kamahoro, a survivor of the Genocide against the Tutsi.

Convicts and prison populations have been educated on unity and reconciliation throughout the years as well as other Rwandan communities after the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, both by government and other private institutions.

According to Prison Fellowship Rwanda, which is involved in educating inmates, some convicts remain stubborn with the genocide ideology.

“Our research that is yet to be published showed us the need for a reintegration service for convicts completing their sentences. Even when some have shown willingness to change, the reality in communities is different. We have raised these concerns with the Senate because something needs to be done,” said John Rucyahana, Chairperson of the Prison Fellowship Rwanda.

Efforts to ascertain numbers of genocide convicts getting released after their sentences from Rwanda Correctional Services were futile by press time.

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The Chairperson of the Committee on Unity, Human Rights and Fight against Genocide in parliament, Veneranda Nyirahirwa, told Rwanda Today that they are lobbying for how Mutobo Demobilization Camp would start re-educating prisoners before they get back into their communities.

Rwanda Rehabilitation Services only deal with delinquents.

Existential problem

Mutobo Demobilization Camp was established 25 years ago with a mission to demobilise and reintegrate ex-combatants in neighboring countries.

“It negates the efforts we have invested into unity and reconciliation over the past two decades. I have received complaints from local leaders of convicts  who become threats to their families and neighbors after getting released from prison. That we have no strategic way to deal with this is an existential problem,” Nyirahirwa said.

In a recent interview with a local newspaper, Dr. Jean Damascene Bizimana, Minister of National Unity and Reconciliation said genocide ideology is the most immediate threat that Rwanda’s unity and reconciliation faces.

“Genocide ideology remains prevalent among some groups of Rwandans. In Rwanda, there are those who have not dissociated themselves from the tragic history of hatred, discrimination, persecution, and divisionism characterizing the First and Second Republics spanning the 1960s to the 1990s.

This transmission and propagation of genocide ideology down the generations poses a serious threat to Rwanda’s unity. However, there is reason to be optimistic, because Rwanda’s good governance will eventually force their lies and hatred to fade away as time passes,” Mr Bizimana said.

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