Community service was introduced under a Rwandan law as an alternative to prison for certain categories of genocide perpetrator who confessed. One of the goals was to reduce overcrowding in the country’s jails.
The semi-traditional village courts or gacaca (pronounced gatchatcha) that tried most genocide suspects had, by the time they closed in June 2012, sentenced 84,896 people to community service, according to the authorities.
A report by the Rwandan prison service says only 53,366 of these turned up in the camps where they were to serve their alternative sentence. The prison service says it does not know where they are.
“This is a matter of great concern for us,” prison service director Paul Rwarakabije told Hirondelle.
“It is extremely worrying for the survivors,” says Naphtal Ahishakiye, secretary general of the main survivors’organization Ibuka.
According to the same report, out of the 53,366 who presented themselves for community service, 46,270 have served their sentence, 1,996 escaped during community service and 340 have died natural deaths.
During community service, convicts help with public works such as building roads, bridges, public schools, orphanages and houses for the elderly.