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TAIRO MAKANGA: They were doing sort of a condom demonstration on TV. And there was an outcry in the papers, with even people calling their, the television station when the program was still on air, with parents saying, “How dare can you show us a condom in front of our kids.”
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the African AIDS battle, and tribal justice in Rwanda.
GERALDINE UMUGWANEZA: We are going to get suspects who are in the prisons then take them back to their villages where they are suspected to have committed these crimes. And it is the members of that village either say that to you, “Is it true, you committed such-and-such? Or it’s not true that you did such-and-such.” What you want to do is not only to prosecute the people and to sentence them or punish them; you also want to reconcile the society.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh. According to the United Nations, 18 million Africans have died from AIDS since the epidemic began. Another 26 million Africans are HIV-positive. Nearly 9 percent of all adults in Africa are infected.
PORTER: For some perspective on this issue I recently spoke with Tariro Makanga, a media officer from an AIDS information service in Zimbabwe. In my first question I referred to the “devastating AIDS crisis in Africa.” Terrero says I shouldn’t have done that.
Tariro Makanga: First of all we are trying to run away from calling it a crisis. And even to describe it as devastating, because what’s happening now because the problem of HIV and AIDS is so big in Africa, it’s affected almost everyone. And we’re trying to do away with those negative words because people are seeing doom and gloom and they’re almost giving up. So we are trying to promote positive living and even though we know the problem is there, at least we are trying to come up with positive issues. And what I would say about the issue of HIV/AIDS, it’s true, it’s killing a lot of people in Africa. And, if, if nothing is done, really, with the rates of infection, they are going up almost on a daily basis. One can even say that in 10 years time maybe we might all be wiped out. It’s, it’s a big problem. We can’t run away from that fact.
PORTER: You are from the Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service. Tell us something about what your organization does.
Makanga: Basically we deal with HIV/AIDS information and dissemination. And all along we’ve been dealing with disseminating information to policymakers. So basically what we do is collect information, whether it’s from the World Health Organization or UNAIDS, or people who put out papers together. We have to collect that information and then pass that information to policymakers who mainly are the implementers. And there is talk that maybe we might be moving to, to collecting information on grassroots level as well.
PORTER: So you work mostly with policymakers, not necessarily with grassroots people, with giving them information about how to avoid AIDS?
Makanga: We basically work with policymakers, but we also work with other AIDS service organizations that are dealing with grassroots people. And as an organization we are quite aware of what’s happening at the grassroots level as well, because we deal with these other organizations that deal with people at the grassroots level.
PORTER: I know I’ve seen in the press and I’ve seen in Africa some very creative uses of media to spread the word and to help people understand the dangers of AIDS, and also understand, in very graphic ways, how to avoid the disease. What, does, is your organization involved in some of those uses of the media for grassroots efforts like that?
Makanga: We have a radio program which running in Zimbabwe on one of the radio stations, where we are trying to disseminate information to the grassroots people. And we’ve also done now quite a number of TV programs in Southern Africa as a whole, where we, like in Malawi we went, we talked about issues of commercial sex workers. In Zambia we talked about issues of child-headed households, which is a major problem in Zambia, where parents are dying and then sometimes they leave children as young as nine years being the eldest and she or he has got the task of looking after other children who are left behind. So I would say we, we are doing quite a lot both on the electronic media and also on the print media, where we produce media information packs which we disseminate to the journalists who in turn write in their papers or on their programs, to grassroots people as well.
PORTER: All over the world people are shy or embarrassed talking about anything related to sexuality. How do you overcome people’s natural reaction to not really want to talk about these issues, to get them the information they need about HIV and AIDS?
Makanga: On that issue you really need to be tactful, because when you look at Africa as a whole, talking about sex, sex issues, it’s more like something that is said to be taboo. For a parent to even watch a program on TV where people are talking about, about sex or even a drama, it’s something that most parents are not comfortable with. And I remember, like in Zimbabwe there was an organization that, that did a program on television. And they were doing sort of a condom demonstration on TV. And there was an outcry in the papers, with even people calling their, the television station when the program was still on air, with parents saying, “How dare can you show us a condom in front of our kids.”
You know, it’s something that people are still not comfortable. But what, what other AIDS service organizations are saying now is HIV/AIDS is here and it’s here to stay. Unless, if we talk about these issues there’s nothing that, that we’re going to do. We have to address the, the issue, hit it on the, on the head. So what, what AIDS service organizations that deal with grassroots people are doing is going to the rural areas, talk to the chiefs, talk to the headmen, who are sort of custodians of the culture within a certain community. And then if you win the heart of the chief or the headman, all people in that particular community respect and then that person will then disseminate that information to the people in that particular area. Then you do the work in that way. But you have to address the issue top-down sort of. Because just going to a parent to say, “This is what is happening,” it’s, it’s proving to be difficult.
And another easy way that, that it is being done is when you have school children at school. When they’re on their own it’s very easy for them to, to even talk about those issues. So quite a number of schools in Africa, they’re now introducing-I’m not sure what they call it as a subject, but the subject where even HIV/AIDS is becoming a subject that teachers, teachers teach on their own. And then having parents, incorporating them to be peer educators amongst themselves. So, through that, if a parent is a peer educator, she or he is made to know that you have to talk about these issues, you know. How, they’re even told how important it is to deal with those issues. And as a result, once the, the parent gets to know that “I need to talk about these issues,” then it’s, it becomes easy for them to talk to their children.
PORTER: I know that all over the world there are also misconceptions and rumors about how, first of all, how AIDS is contracted. And secondly, how it might be cured. What are some of the rumors or misconceptions that, that you hear in your job, that people say about these diseases?
Makanga: The first rumor that, that is there is that people first of all, they’ve said it was manufactured in a laboratory in one of the Western countries, with the main aim of, of wiping away Africans. And what people are saying is, if this problem is a global problem like what it is claimed to be, then why is it killing 1,000 people in an African people and not killing maybe 20 people in most of the Western countries. The Western countries have got the drugs we don’t have. So this was, this was put to, to kill Africans.
And then in the African traditions is where, there is a tradition that was there a long time ago, where maybe if a husband suspects that my wife is having an affair with a certain man, they use certain herbs. And then when they use that certain herb those people will get ill and the disease cannot be cured at all. And then those people will die. So what people are saying is these signs and symptoms that people who are HIV positive have and the effect of thinning off, you know, their hair is, is smooth and all; it’s the same things that would happen with that disease. So, for some Africans it’s where they believe that, that, that, could be what we are now calling HIV and AIDS.
And also, we have the issue of poverty. Which, which I think was a hit when the South African President made the remark that HIV does not cause AIDS. So there are quite a number of issues that, that people talk about when they’re really trying to find the problem of where exactly AIDS came from.
PORTER: I was going to ask you about that. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, made a remark about HIV not being connected to AIDS. How did that affect your work, when he made that comment?
Makanga: With that statement what most of us took it be was, he was sort of aligning himself to AIDS dissidents. But then, critically looking it as well as what he was saying, you look at a lot of events that are happening within Africa, you look at the issue of HIV/AIDS, who are people who are mainly affected with it? You see it’s mainly the poor. And for him some of the things that he talked about is, “We have to address the issue of poverty.” Because if people are not well fed they will still go into the streets. They are looking for, for food. And then they engage into prostitution. And if people are empowered, OK, there are quite a number of anti-literal virals that are being introduced that can help. Some produce HIV positive to prolong their lives. Those people, they are not, they are not able, they can’t afford those drugs. So when those things are like that, I think on the issue of poverty it’s an issue that should be addressed. And I think he was right to say that poverty should be addressed. But when, when you look at the issue that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, when, oh no, it causes-well, it’s a problem.
PORTER: There’s also been a lot of media attention paid to the fact that South Africa was in a battle with drug companies about getting the drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS at a fair price. Has this also been a struggle in the rest of Southern Africa as well?
Makanga: Not in most of, of the African countries. Actually when you are looking at the issue of HIV/AIDS, the debates that are happening in South Africa, they are quite advanced than in any other country. So with other countries like in Zimbabwe, they’re still talking about issues of behavior change. We haven’t even gone to this, that stage where we are looking at, at drugs. People are still not concerned with those issues. So it’s mainly, it’s a strategy in South Africa. And maybe since this South African, the South African government managed to be successful on that issue, I think it’s only last month, I, I’m hoping that I think it will reduce payment to other countries in Southern Africa. But, it started in South Africa.
PORTER: Are there particular success stories? Are there places in Africa where you think things are getting better now? Where you can tell our audience that there is some hope?
Makanga: Yeah. I think in Uganda. Uganda has been very successful. You know what they did is, they, they came up with strategies where they, the government acknowledged that the issue of HIV/AIDS is a major problem for the nation. And they’ve come up with programs and if you look at the rates of HIV infection in Uganda, I think it was in the late, early 1990s, they were getting high-I think about 20 percent every week, rates of infection, getting it. But now they’re actually going down. So with Uganda they’ve managed to control it. And what’s happening now with African governments is they are sending people to Uganda to learn from the Ugandan government, how did they implement that, that whole problem. So I think if, if this debate goes on and if people continue going to Uganda to learn from them how they got it, I think, light is at the end of the tunnel. Because Uganda is a success story in Africa.
PORTER: So there is reason to be hopeful?
Makanga: Yeah, there is reason to be hopeful. And I’m still hopeful that maybe a cure could be found. Whether it’s from the, from the traditional people or from the medical profession. And for me, really, as an African who knows how, how some of our traditional healers use the traditional herbs, I think I would advocate for, for a situation where you have the medical scientists and the traditional healers working together so that we can find, find a cure for it. Because for me, I think a cure can be found. I don’t think people, people should, should really give up. People just need to work together.
PORTER: Tariro Makanga is from the Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service in Zimbabwe.
MCHUGH: Tribal justice in Rwanda, next on Common Ground.
GERALDINE UMUGWANEZA: It is the villagers that are going to sit down and elect, choose women and men of great integrity. People they think, who they think are going to be impartial.
MCHUGH: The 1994 genocide in Rwanda left nearly a million people dead. Seven years later 120,000 suspects remain in jail on charges related to the genocide. But the Rwandan justice system is physically unable to process this many cases.
PORTER: So Rwanda is turning to a traditional village-based legal system called “Gacaca.” Geraldine Umugwaneza is a Rwandan lawyer and a technical advisor to the Rwandan Supreme Court. She spends much of her time explaining the Gacaca system to journalists.
GERALDINE UMUGWANEZA: Really it is thought that the justice system whereby many people took exile, or went in exile-you had judges, you had lawyers, going into exile. And you had others that had died in the genocide. So, because we never had enough manpower we not have enough capacity to prosecute these ones. But now there is the new process called the Gacaca, where we think even to speed up the trials.
PORTER: I’ve read lots of news stories about Gacaca. You used the term “a grassroots justice system.” I’ve heard other people call it an “informal tribal justice system,” which has some deep, traditional roots in Rwanda. Are those adequate shorthand descriptions for Gacaca.
UMUGWANEZA: It used to be that the, if two people had a disagreement or any kind of a dispute in our, in our, in our society, people not going to go to court; you had no courts at that time. They would instead call elders or people around them, some members of the family and then they would help them, say to their dispute. And now what is going on, the way things are going to, to work out, is that we have kind of developed this form of traditional. And what we are going to get suspects who are in the prisons then take them back to their villages where they are suspected to have committed these crimes. And it is the members of that village either say that to you, “Is it true, you committed such-and-such? Or it’s not true that you did such-and-such.” What you want to do is not only to prosecute the people and to sentence them or punish them; you also want to reconcile the society.
And we can never and-also the important thing about this Gacaca, Gacaca has got goals. This Gachacha which is the grassroots-based system, justice system, we need to reconcile our society. That’s one of our objectives. Secondly, we need to, to know the truth. And most of us are victims of whatever happened and many people don’t know much about what happened. All they know that their people were killed or they losted someone. But they don’t know how this person died. So we were given, want to know the mystery behind the genocide that was committed.
PORTER: I want to repeat that for our audience. You said you wanted to know the mystery behind the genocide. Is that what you said?
UMUGWANEZA: Even if we have some information about the genocide, because there were people that really saw what was happening, some of us saw what was happening and others who were victims of what happened. But actually can’t really know how, to why to us to such an extent. Is it just a hatred between the two ethnical groups? What did the planners do to really influence such a big society to commit crimes against each other?
PORTER: Geraldine, I want to ask some specific questions about the Gacaca system. There might be Americans who say, “You know, I’ve heard that the United Nations has set up an International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda. Why do you need to create this new system, when there’s a War Crimes Tribunal?
UMUGWANEZA: Mainly, why we set up the Gacaca process when we have the ICTR, for example, International Criminal Tri-the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is based in Arusha Tanzania, is that, for example, it is trying the big fish-what you call the big fish-the planners. And the main, it’s the planners are just, they are not many. But the people that really executed the genocide, they are very, they are numerous and they are in our society. So, not everyone could go to Arusha to be prosecuted. Could we just leave such a, we are trying even to eradicate the occurrence of impunity. How do we do it? We start from home.
PORTER: What about the existing Rwanda justice system? Which of these people who have been charged with crimes associated with the genocide will go to the existing Rwandese justice system and which ones will go to these traditional grassroots Gacaca courts.
UMUGWANEZA: We have four categories of, of criminals. First of all, we have the first category is the planners of genocide. And their, and their penalty is death penalty.
Second, you have the people in the second category, mainly these are the people that also executed the genocide, they committed the crimes of rape, or sexual torture and all that. Those are in the second category. Their penalty is life imprisonment.
There is the third category whereby I see if I try to remember is the people who, who attacked you and they sometimes tortured you, did as many things that were bad to you, but had no intentions of killing you. And they just have to determine who, why were people doing such if they had no intentions of killing. But you still have those in the third category. And their penalties is some years of imprisonment, imprisonment-between one year and, let’s say 20 years.
Then you have a fourth category, which is the last category. The fourth category is the people that ate other people’s cows, that looted the TV, or took plates, or took ??. And their penalty is to just, to go and dialog with the victims, the, his victims, the person who is a victim of whatever he did or whatever he took. And then after dialoguing, you ask him for forgiveness and give back what you took during that time.
PORTER: You talk about people in the four categories. Which of those four categories will be dealt with by the Gacaca courts?
UMUGWANEZA: Gacaca tribunals has the powers to look through into the cases. But it has the powers only to sentence people who were in the category four and category three. But we don’t have very many people in category three because it is harder to really know that someone committed crimes against you and he had no intentions of killing you. We have very many people in category four; we have very many people in category two; and we have very many people in category one.
And what is going to happen now is that the, they are going to bring suspects back to their villages, to their villages. When you reach there it is the, we have been lacking evidence for these suspects. And some of them, they have accepted that, for example, that they stealed, but they never said that for example they raped or they ate other people’s property. Such that we never knew that they had so many crimes they kept committing. Or had never, we never knew that they committed the crimes in some places and went to hide in other places and again committed other crimes and then shifted to a fourth or a fifth place.
Now, when you are taken to the village it is the village members who say “You committed such-and-such.” Or it is the village members who say, “Not only did you kill, you also raped me,” for example. Or “You also killed my son.” Or “my daughter-in-law.” And it is from them, then, that people we know, that you not only belong to the second category, but now you can, from what-OK, from all of these charges that the villagers are bringing against you, they will sit down and say, “This is not our case. It is a case to be furthered to a country court.
PORTER: In the Gacaca system, how are the people chosen who will serve as part of this court? How are the judges chosen who will, who will take part in this system?
UMUGWANEZA: It is the villagers that are going to sit down and elect, choose women and men of great integrity. People they think, who they think are going to be impartial. Very important, again, is the way, how are we going to get evidence. How are we going to know the truth. Where people died and there is no victim to tell us. Or if there is, there is only one or two in a big village.
But one thing again we believe in, the only hope that we have is that, it’s only, it’s not only victims that can tell the truth. It’s not only the victims that tell what evidence. Even the people from the suspects’ families, they have a lot to tell us. You are not, first of all in our law have we, there is a punishment for someone who knows the truth and he’s not-or she’s-not ready to tell it. You are not going to say, don’t know where your neighbor went. You had nothing to hide it from. You were there watching what was going on. Many, men participated who had-we have also some women that participated, but mainly women would see what is going on. So we believe that they are going also to tell us. There is a lot they can tell us. Even victims, some victims, most victims that survived, were in hiding. So which means they don’t have much to tell.
PORTER: I’ve heard some people say that there are Rwandese who have some objections to the Gacaca courts and perhaps don’t think this is a good idea. What are the objections that you hear from people inside Rwanda to this, to this idea?
UMUGWANEZA: In fact, this is why I talk about sensitizing people in Gacaca. Some people think that, for example, it is only to reduce the penalty. People are going to benefit from the reduction of the penalty. There is also another thing that is provided for in the new Gachacha law, that part of you-a convicted person has got, has got the, a chance-rather you can decide, for example, if you are sentenced for 20 years, you can decide to, to serve part, to spend part of your sentence in the jail and the other part of your sentence back home. But how do you do it?
You just go 10 years in the jail, 10 years in your home, but again you keep reporting. There are some people you will be reporting to. And then they send you to do some, some work. Because also think that these people that really destroyed what was destroyed at that time, they should participate in rebuilding. If it is roads, if it is houses. For example, many women victims and orphans don’t have ways-they are shelterless. So we are going to bring these people that are convicted to build us some houses for them, to construct roads. To put, to in some valleys they should grow some crops. The, all, everything really.
Because also, we also thinking of the situation where we have so many people in jail. We, and these people we are feeding them. With what do we feed them? So they should participate, they should contribute in feeding them. They should also get back home and make all these, participate in all these developments. So some people are saying, “I don’t think it is a punishment,” for example. “I lost my husband.” “I lost my father.” “I lost my family.” “I lost my children.” Whatever they lost. “And why do you, why should you say that you are punishing someone who is living with his wife. They are producing. If it is a house that was destroyed he’s resheltering. He’s redeveloping. That’s not punishment. Why would even a convicted person really have a choice?” Someone who-a criminal is a criminal. Someone sentenced these, has sentenced the person. You have nothing to object to. You are sentenced. So why do you have them to make a choice?
So there are certainly contradictions sometimes with the normal justice system, which people, some people don’t appreciate. But again, what you are supposed to do mainly-in the lower chamber of the Supreme Court, where I am a technician now, and the Minister of, plus the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Local Government, it is to make sure that within states people to understand even that there are certain advantages. Of course, there are disadvantages. And there are advantages. But the advantages are of now in our vision, we see that they outweigh the disadvantages.
PORTER: When this is completely up and running, how many courts do you think there will be? How many total Gacaca courts do you think there might be across all of Rwanda?
UMUGWANEZA: Well, there are very many because we have, we have the administrative structure, and now it’s already changed again. We have the province, we have the district, we have, umm, a communal level. We have a Secretary of ??. On each of these levels there, there are different Gacaca courts. There are many. As of now I don’t have the number because I’m trained to set them up. But we, I don’t even have a rough figure but there will be many. And we believe they are going to be satisfactory.
PORTER: Will there be thousands of these?
UMUGWANEZA: There could be almost 900.
PORTER: If they were all set up, how many years would it take to get through all of the cases that are out there?
UMUGWANEZA: First of all, the Gacaca process is starting in the, in September. This is what we hope for. And the, we think that possibly it is going to take more, not more than six or seven years. But many hope that it will actually be five years.
PORTER: That is Geraldine Umugwaneza, a Rwandan lawyer and a technical advisor to the Rwandan Supreme Court. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
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