rwanda: STRONG MEMORIES, fuzzy memories, and serious forgetting


NOTHING, I remember nothing,” the middle-aged witness insisted to the court. “I was sick during the genocide.” She was standing before a man accused of multiple murders, an audience of her neighbors, and a row of judges at a session of gacaca, one of nine thousand local sessions set up by the Rwandan government in 2001 to try tens of thousands charged with participating in the 1994 genocide. On a Saturday last June, some thirty people from surrounding farms gathered outside a small government building tucked into a space between fields to participate in the trials of three prisoners. The scene was bucolic when I arrived—lush fields, twittering birds, butterflies. The simple structure, a galvanized roof over wooden benches, looked oddly like a picnic pavilion in a quiet American park. But the serenity was belied by the tense silence that hung over the crowd, as everyone waited to begin. The prisoners sat in front. One, a stooped middle-aged man, was nervous and fidgety; the other two, in their mid to late twenties, affected aggressive indifference.

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