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Rwandan Genocide Convicts to Begin Community Service

The first group of people found guilty for their role in the 1994 genocide killings under Rwanda's traditional court system will begin their community service work.

Starting early next week, 935 people convicted of genocide in Rwanda's central province of Gitarama will begin extracting and crushing rocks to be used in road construction.

The executive secretary of the National Committee for Community Service, Emmanuel Twagirumukiza, explains that the convicts' community service includes building houses for genocide survivors.

"We plan also to do other activities, like erosion control, like reforestation, like building schools, health centers, and so on," said Emmanuel Twagirumukiza. "We have quite a lot of work for them."

Mr. Twagirumukiza says the convicts will live together in camps in Gitarama and will work side-by-side with salaried workers. He says there will be more camps set up in other areas of the country as trials continue.

During Rwanda's 1994 genocide, Hutu extremists systematically killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

To be able to handle the huge number of cases related to the genocide, the Rwandan government set up trials for certain genocide suspects under a modified traditional communal court system known as "Gacaca," which means "judgment on the grass."

The convicts sentenced to community service under the Gacaca system include those who pled guilty to murder or conspiracy to murder and have already spent an average of about seven years in jail. The community service is meant to complete their sentences.

Rwanda's permanent secretary in the Ministry of the Interior, Joseph Mutaboba, says the community service, and the Gacaca courts in general, are meant to bring healing to communities torn apart by the genocide.

"It's all a matter of showing the community in general that these people [convicts] can be useful to the other people, to the community at large, not only the survivors, to say, look, these guys have committed a crime, they have offended the people of Rwanda, but this is what they are rendering as kind of a service to them," said Joseph Mutaboba.

The Gacaca system hears the cases of people accused of being perpetrators of, or accomplices to, murder, assault, and offenses against property.

Those accused of masterminding, planning, or organizing the genocide are being tried by the conventional courts, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and courts in Europe.