This week Rwanda commemorates the massacres of 1994, in which 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days. The country is now stable, but how does any society recover from such a horror?
Twenty years ago, an unimaginable horror engulfed the African country of Rwanda. In the space of just 100 days, at least 800,000 people — mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus — were killed at the hands of Hutu extremists.
This week Rwanda enters an official period of mourning, and a special wreath-laying ceremony in the capital, Kigali, yesterday marked the atrocity. Tensions had existed between the two ethnic groups for years, but after the president’s plane was shot down in 1994, Hutu extremists embarked on a murderous campaign. The killings only ended when a Tutsi rebel movement, led by the current president Paul Kagame, seized control of the country.
The scale of the genocide defies belief. Over 300 lives were lost every hour. Yet after such dark days, Rwanda has been transformed into a stable and prosperous nation. Infant mortality has more than halved since 1994. Nearly all children now go to school at seven, where they are taught that they are neither Hutu nor Tutsi, but Rwandans.
It is clear that Rwandans themselves crave peace. After the genocide, over 120,000 alleged perpetrators were crammed into the country’s prisons — too many for the courts to deal with. A system of community justice, partly under the control of the victims, took up the task and concerned itself with healing and reconciliation as well as punishment for the guilty. Despite some international concerns about its fairness, it has meant that many old enemies now live and work side by side.
Other countries torn apart by hatred have also promoted reconciliation. This month marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first post-apartheid election; a reminder of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which played a large part in reconciling black and white South Africans.
But nation-building in the wake of such horrors is a monumental task. How can any country heal such terrible wounds?
Forgiveness or punishment?
Some say that those responsible for horrific crimes must always face justice — and harsh penalties. Even today Germany is still bringing Nazi war criminals to court, nearly 70 years after the end of the Second World War. They believe that a strong response acts as a powerful deterrent to others in the future, and it is the only way that those affected can move on with their lives.
But others say that criminal justice only breeds revenge. Reconciliation can bring healing for the nation as well as the victims. People should learn to forgive by supporting peace agreements and through offering amnesties, as demonstrated in post-apartheid South Africa and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. Otherwise the cycle of violence will never end.
Somaliland shares the same horror experience with Rwanda, but we have chosen reconciliation. Mass graves are still unearthed for witnessing the Siad Bare’s genocide against The Issaq clan in 1980s in which almost 50,000 people were killed and millions displaced.
Is criminal justice a more effective way of healing deep divisions than reconciliation?
Allah protects Somaliland
Lecturer:Abdulkhaliq Mohamed Sheikh Osman-Birmingham UK.