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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: December 2010




In a Rwandan village near the Burundi border, a crowd chatters impatiently beneath a tattered blue tarpaulin shielding them from the midday sun. Before them on a long, wooden bench sit nine elders, mostly middle-aged men and women, led by a young man – the president of the panel – who stands and addresses the gathering. The president explains that in their midst today is a prisoner, released from jail a week ago, who has confessed to committing crimes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which in a little over three months claimed the lives of between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsi and their perceived Hutu and Twa sympathisers. The task of this gathering, the president explains, is to listen to anyone from the village who saw what this prisoner did, to hear from the victims' families of their pain after losing loved ones during the genocide, and for the nine judges – who have been elected by the community for their wisdom, love of truth and justice and dedication to the well-being of the village – to decide the case of the accused. The president calls for a minute's silence in memory of those killed during the genocide and then, after reading a list of procedures that will guide the running of today's meeting, he motions the prisoner forward to address the assembly.

A murmur goes through the gathering as the prisoner walks to the front, standing between the crowd and the line of judges.