Kigali, April 6, 2014 (FH) – “I’ve had difficulties raising my nephews and my niece since the death of their parents because their property was sold by a distant relative,” says Eugène Ndayisaba. “Their land is occupied by six families. I only managed to get a little bit of it in 2006.”Ndayisaba, now about 50, has had to work hard since 1994 to feed and clothe not only his own children but also those of his sister who was killed in the genocide.

2 min 46Approximate reading time

With help from the government’s Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors most in Need (known by its French acronym FARG), his two nephews and niece have been able to finish secondary school. “But compared with what their parents had, this assistance is nothing,” he says.Ndayisaba, who works as a mason in the Kicukiro district of Kigali, has been struggling for years to help these young people get their family assets back. “I filed a request to the district authorities and I was interviewed by the special commission set up by the Prime Minister,” Ndayisaba recounts. “And those people who are occupying the land promised to give it back to us. But we are still waiting.” He urges the commission to step up a gear. For Odetta, a genocide survivor who lives in the same district, things are harder. Now married to a driver, she has struggled for a long time to support the three daughters of her older sister who was killed in the genocide. “I have done the best I can with the help of the authorities,” she says. “But I can’t meet their needs like their parents did. Two of them have left school, even though the FARG was paying their fees”. She says her sister’s family owned two houses and two hectares of land on the outskirts of Kigali, and her brother-in-law had a civil servant’s salary. “At this time of commemorating, my nieces’ trauma is all the greater, for they feel that if their parents’ were alive their lives would be much better. We want the authorities to help us get back what belongs to them.”

“A big obstacle to reconciliation”

Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, head of the main genocide survivors’ organization Ibuka, hails the government’s efforts to help orphans and widows get their rights. He says some property has been recovered, but much still needs to be done. “When the ad hoc commission was set up, the aim was to end this problem once and for all before the 20th commemoration of the genocide,” he says. “Today that is not at all the case. But there is still hope, because the political will is there.”Whereas in some cases assets have been seized by members of the family, there are also genocide perpetrators who have managed to sell the seized property of people killed, thinking no one would claim them, according to Ibuka Executive Secretary Naphtal Ahishakiye. “This is an enormous obstacle to reconciliation,” he says. “How can you reconcile with someone who is living off the sweat of your father, when you are living in poverty?” The main problem, according to him, is that even if a survivor manages to gather all the necessary evidence, she or he needs to embark on a lengthy judicial process. “We need to simplify the procedure,” he suggests. As well as furniture and parcels of land, there are also bank accounts. “The money belonging to lots of people killed in the genocide appears to have vanished along with them, and their heirs cannot find any trace of it,” says Ahishakiye. “We have just come across some forty cases and we are doing all we can to get this money restored to the heirs.”And then there remains the question of goods looted or destroyed during the genocide. The people who have been convicted for such crimes are either indigent or simply don’t want to pay compensation. For President Paul Kagame, real reparations for victims can only come with a national impetus involving everyone, whether guilty or not. “We are working hand in hand, in solidarity, to rebuild through community service (umuganda) what people destroyed during the darkest days of our history,” he said in March as he put his own hand to the construction of a house in a widows’ village in Kigali. This monthly community service (umuganda in the Rwandan language) is inspired by Rwandan tradition. SRE-ER/JC