Forgive but not forget: Lessons for Nepal from Rwanda


Forgive but not forget: Lessons for Nepal from Rwanda

Post conflict transition is not a piecemeal process or a phenomenon. There has to be a direction of the vision that has to be both shared and driven by the major institutions related to the post-conflict processes, such as the army, the police, judiciary and the general bureaucracy.

The approach that must be taken in these contexts has to be, therefore, institutionalized rather than individualized. Nepal’s post-conflict processes lacks this seriously. There is no uniform or coherent vision that is shared by the institutions or the leaders of these government mechanisms. The lack of this has intended to induce ad hoc, short-term and myopic measures which by no means have contributed to long term transformation that the country needs. It is also a matter of political will that is required for a shift to take place from a non-functional old paradigm to a new vibrant functional one. It is also taking post-conflict context not as a problem (or a lamentation to be done forever) but as an opportunity to build an entirely new better future.

National Unity and Reconciliation Commission:

The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission has a heavy focus on the unity and the direction that the country needs to take in the event on post-conflict transformation. It believes that unity is the direction that the country should take, learning from the lessons of the genocide, and that long-terms solutions are to be sought for such genocidal crimes or problems. Since the roots of the genocide/conflict were socio-historical, it required similar solutions than ad hoc measures.

Nepal: Unlike Rwanda, Nepal formed an ad hoc truth commission with a mandate of two years.

Gacaca and community-justice: 

Justice needs to be driven by those who matter most. Rwanda experimented Gacaca as a community-based justice mechanism to resolve about 100,000 cases related to the 100 days of genocide. Had it resorted to the traditional (also called classic courts) justice system, it would take almost 100 years to dispose all of the cases. Instead, by designing Gacaca courts (based on their traditions) to serve the newly-arose needs of justice, the post-conflict process created opportunities for people affected by the crime to become part of the process and the outcomes. The victims and perpetrators came together through this locally-driven process and that generated trust on the justice process as well. In this regard, it should be noted that Gacaca courts were not meant to forgive or do something of a ‘light’ justice. The Gacaca courts disposed cases, sentenced perpetrators to imprisonment, but in doing so, the sentences were rather relaxed than the traditional court systems so that it best served the needs of the torn community. The perpetrators had to return to their communities, live alongside their victims, and also resume their lives and maintain community harmony. If it were done through the top-down court processes, these specific needs would have to be compromised. It also shows that in justice processes, the means are as important as outcomes. The participation of real stakeholders (victims, offenders, and the affected communities) ensures that their needs are being heard, that they are being valued by the justice system, and it eventually generates more trust in the justice system.

But it should be noted that Gacaca operated in tandem with other mechanisms of justice as well. For instance, trials for ‘bigger fishes’ of genocide were done in the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda based in Arusha, Tanzania, and as many as 63 individuals were indicted through this. The usual courts were also looking into the cases related to genocide. In this way, all mechanisms worked to serve the same purpose of delivering justice.

Nothing specifically based on community have been established in Nepal to address concerns of Nepal’s post-conflict transition. Establishing certain mechanisms will only help the country move forward.

Political unity and cooperation: 

Political is a crucial part of developing all nations, especially of politically fragile transitional nations. In this regard, Rwanda experimented by creating a common forum of political parties which was a means by which all parties in Rwanda were represented (including the dissenting ones). All these parties shared a vision that the needs to be politically stable so that the dividends of peace and development would be shared by everyone. In addition, that was a sharing-a-pie model, which was more functional way of democratization than the typical winner-take-it-all parliamentary democratic processes. Cooperation benefits everyone.

This is something Nepal can take lessons from.

Organic or home-grown solutions:

Like Gacaca as the major home-grown initiative, another initiative called Omaganda was also being used in Rwanda. Omaganda was an initiative whereby each individual had taken part in the community development work on the last Saturday of the month. It was believed that such initiatives would not only support economic development of the country but would also generate a sense of ownership of the development processes. In addition, it also gave rise to the feeling of solidary among Rwandans, which is a crucial element in a country rising from the ashes of genocidal crime and community breakdown. 

Nepal does not have anything that was home-grown to address the concerns of the victims or parties of the crime. Neither did it have anything that was designed to address the specificities of the conflict it had.

Forgive but not forget: 

Non-retaliation processes are also important in post-conflict contexts. In Rwanda, after the genocide was over, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came to power. RPF was a Tutsi-led rebel group fighting the Hutu government. But as soon as it came to power, it adopted the policies of tolerance and inclusion. It brought the former Hutus to the fold of national unity and gave them spaces to contribute together in the nation-building. Those who hadn’t taken part in the genocide, or those who had served sentences already were given opportunities to come together. It was based on this principle of respect and inclusion that the former police and army members were included in the new police or army of the RPF led government. Not only this, but it was also seen that those Hutus who fled to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to launch an armed resurgence against the RPF were given opportunities to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate back into societies. Such former militants were put in camps and given a three-month intensive training along with the economic incentives to resume back their peaceful life back in their communities.

The RPF government which came to the power after the genocide didn’t resort to retaliate. An inclusive, tolerant policy was adopted whereby the former Hutu militias and supporters of former government were given chances to reconcile.

There is still an unfinished business of managing conflict-related retaliation in Nepal

Prisons and community service:

Criminals who were kept inside prisons were given opportunities for community service called ingando. Such ingando mechanisms were set up so that the prisoners, rather than remaining idle forces, contribute back to communities as a way of ‘righting’ their wrongs or giving back to the community whom they have harmed.

Nepal’s 20,000 prison population is kept idle and putting them to community work would be a significant breakthrough in reducing prison population and in taking up community development works.

Safety and its ripple effects:

Safety was kept as one of the biggest priorities of the Rwandan government. People said that there is no place and no time when they would feel unsafe. Crime rates had gone down significantly. And the ripple effect of this was that tourists would visit Rwanda finding it very safe, and the tourism industry bloomed on this. Not only this, but the safe environment also attracted foreign investment (making it one of the investment-friendly countries in Africa). The new foreign investments created more jobs and made the economy thriving. The ripple effect of safety was clearly seen.

In Nepal, there lacks any similar deliberate efforts made by the government.

Ethnicity and politics:

Hutus and Tutsis are not like the “ethnic” groups based on different languages, religion or culture. They were socio-economic classes based on the ownership of cows or their occupation. For example, those who owning more than 10 cows were called Tutsis and those having less were called Hutus. Similarly, Hutus were those doing agriculture and Twas were the pastoralist nomad groups. The divisions were created by the colonialist German and Belgians in order to support their political interests in dividing and ruling the country. But the country went to the horrendous act of genocide believing that there were real differences between these groups. Ethnicity sometimes becomes a tool of politics, and Rwanda shows that if we can’t discern the real versus political manifestation of ethnicity and politics, we run the disastrous fate.

Finally, two hiccups…

The housing of about 5,000 Hutu prisoners in Nyanza prison was of particular concern for me. All these prisoners were housed together overcrowded, and there were fewer programs for their correction or rehabilitation. In such circumstances, there are chances of such groups being radicalized or regrouped as they go back to their communities and retaliate. If this happens, it will derail the post-conflict transitional journey that Rwanda is striving to make.

Reconciliation is a long-term process. And therefore, for a community coming from a horrible genocidal past, there requires a more sustained, long-term engagement with the communities who were affected and/or involved in the genocide. In Rwanda, reconciliation at this point appears as if being left to the individuals. There is no holistic program towards community or interpersonal reconciliation. If this continues like this, there is a danger that victims will feel hopeless, unheard and it can take any direction. If their needs are left unmet (emotional, socio-psychological, economic), a sense of distrust or retaliation can slowly gain grounds—which will then prove detrimental to the peaceful transition that the country is seeking to make.

Ram Tiwari

This article is an opinion piece of the author based on his impressions of Rwanda where he made a visit on April-May 2018.