Rwanda’s attorney general and minister of justice says the country has made significant strides to reconcile citizens in the past 20 years following the 1994 genocide that left about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed in a 100-day massacre. Rwanda begins the commemoration of the genocide on Monday.
Busingye Johnston says the commemoration of the tragedy is a period of stocktaking, to remember, renew and for Rwandans to commit to the country’s unity, as well as the legacy of the genocide and its aftermath.
“It is also to take stock of what is happening to the world 20 years down the road. Is genocide still, never again? Is it still crime against humanity? Is the world behaving as if genocide will never happen again? Are people being brought to account who got involved in the perpetration of the genocide? So we are taking stock of the 20 years and looking at the future with a lot of hope,” said Johnston.
Rwanda’s economy, infrastructure, social services, education systems and health system, were totally shattered after the genocide, according to Johnston.
He says President Paul Kagame’s government has since made significant efforts to reconcile the people after the genocide and has implemented policies that have improved the lives of the people.
“We came to a point that we wrapped around policies that can foster unity, working together, building a nation, having diverse views, but also knowing the limit of what we do, and being sure that we don’t rupture our society again,” said Johnston. “We are not 100 percent, but we have made very good progress. We are working on all facets of national, political, social and economic life and Rwandans feel one nation again.”
The government in Kigali says Tutsis were mainly targeted to be wiped out during the 1994 genocide, although moderate Hutus were also killed during the same period.
Some Rwandans contend the administration’s insistence the genocide mainly targeted Tutsis could breed divisions among the population.
But Johnston disagreed. He says the government honors and commemorates those non-Tutsis who stood up to the ethnic cleansing, but lost their lives as a result of their effort.
“The genocide happened certainly against the Tutsis, but there are people of all walks of life who died standing up against the genocide,” said Johnston. “For us it is giving everything its proper place and those who fought against the genocide, we really do commemorate with them, every remembrance week.”
Johnston says there is need for politicians to be cautious about their utterances that could undermine efforts made to reconcile the people as well as maintain the country’s peace and stability. He outlined some of the lessons learned from the legacy of the genocide.
“We have learned that divisive politics, we have learned that an ideology that is capable of nothing else but hatred of one community against another community, of one people against the other ends up causing you mass atrocity. And the mass atrocity that we saw in 1994 was without an action process that preceded it many years, and then it culminated in the 1994 genocide,” said Johnston.
“We have also learned that you can do your best to reconcile the people and also that you can pick up from a shuttered and written off state with determination with modest efforts to continue moving and you can get to where we are,” said Johnston. “We are certainly not where we want to be, but we have made some progress and we now have something that we can proudly call a nation.”
Critics say the government has narrowed the country’s political space making it difficult for opponents to freely operate without fear of intimidation or harassment.
Johnston disagrees. He says several opposition political parties freely operate in the country without hindrance.
“I know there are about seven or eight political parties operating in this country. I do not know those who lack space and they lack space to do what? It might depend really on what they want that space do. Otherwise, all the political parties in this country are operating normally like any other party would operate,” he said.
Johnston says Rwanda is looking to the future with a lot of hope after what he says has been the country’s economic transformation since the genocide.
Clottey interview with Busingye Johnston, Rwanda's attorney general