The purpose of this report is to explore the challenges that witnesses face in giving testimony about crimes committed during the genocide and to assess the strength of the various processes and mechanisms established to ensure their protection. Issues of victim and witness protection in Rwanda are paramount because of the sheer number of witnesses in question and the complexities of the post-genocide society in which hundreds of thousands of convicted perpetrators, suspects, survivors and their families live side-by-side on densely populated hills. In particular, the proximity of those accused of genocide crimes to those who could testify against them is a key source of communal tension and a principal challenge for any victim and witness protection programme.

These communal tensions have often led to physical and verbal attacks against prosecution and defence witnesses and social ostracism, often deterring individuals from giving evidence. It is telling, however, that despite the substantial obstacles and risks involved, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans have testified about crimes committed during the genocide. Through examining some of their experiences and the challenges they encountered, this report seeks to identify patterns and trends that underline the need for reform in the area of victim and witness protection.

The basis of this report is an analysis of relevant Rwandan and ICTR legal documents, and individual interviews and focus groups conducted in March and April 2012 with sixty Rwandan prosecution and defence witnesses, Rwandan government officials, Rwandan and ICTR judicial personnel, as well as civil society actors. Interviews were conducted in Arusha, Kigali, Huye (and two neighbouring villages) and Rusizi (and two villages) in Southern Province, and Rubavu in Western Province, Rwanda. During the field research, particular attention was paid to interviewing a di-versity of respondents, according to their age, ethnicity, geographical location, personal experience of the genocide and participation in different types of post-genocide legal processes. A draft of this report was presented to the staff of the Rwandan witness protection units in August 2012 as part of a one-day training session offered by the Institute for Legal Practice and Develop ment (ILPD), in Nyanza, Southern Province, and amendments were made to the report following these discussions. The analysis here also draws to some extent on previous fieldwork in Rwanda conducted by the authors and other REDRESS researchers.

The report highlights three overarching findings:

a) Victims and witnesses face a wide range of threats – some highly visible and others more subtle – that require tailor-made protection processes. It is clear that some of these threats shape current international and domestic protection mechanisms, while others have been largely overlooked. Gacaca and the ICTR are the two institutions that have most shaped Rwanda’s witness protection framework. Gacaca completed its mandate on 17 June 2012, while the ICTR is expected to do likewise by 2014. The Rwandan national courts will soon be the sole forum within Rwanda for the prosecution of genocide cases and will therefore have to address the legacies of gacaca and the ICTR including victim and witness protection. Rather than automatically replicating gacaca’s or the ICTR’s approach to protection, it is important for the national courts to provide measures tailored to meet individual witnesses’ needs, while taking account of the particular Rwandan social context and prevailing resource constraints.

b) The experience of testifying about the horrific events of the genocide, often before a variety of judicial bodies, exposed many survivors to retraumatisation. There is a need to strengthen domestic initiatives designed to provide witnesses with psycho-social sup-port. Similarly, while survivors testifying before the ICTR in Arusha could receive some form of counselling while in Arusha, this has not been sustained once they returned to Rwanda. The domestic witness protection processes offer an opportunity for more sus-tained and engaged support. It is also necessary to take steps to avoid retraumatisation through the training of judicial personnel in order to ensure that survivors do not find it difficult to testify.

c) There has been substantial domestic reform of key judicial and legal processes in Rwanda since 2004, including in the area of victim and witness protection. These reforms are primarily a response to domestic needs and concerns, particularly the challenge of handling a massive caseload of genocide suspects and the increase over time of various forms of intimidation toward witnesses who testified during gacaca trials. However, the domestic reform agenda has since been critically shaped by international developments such as the Rwandan government’s desire to facilitate the transfer of high profile genocide suspects from the ICTR under the Tribunal’s Rule 11 bis provisions, as well as the extradition of suspects currently residing abroad. While domestic reforms have been driven by local needs, their substance is geared towards meeting the international expectations of the ICTR and other external actors. Some of these reforms have been extremely effective at improving the protection of genocide witnesses. In other cases, however, the reforms – even though they have contributed to facilitating the transfer of several cases from the ICTR to Rwanda – appear more concerned with international concerns than with ad-dressing the particular needs of victims and witnesses in Rwanda.

You can download the report here