Justice for survivors: Two decades later, Genocide orphans still deprived from their parents’ assets

photoMinister Kaboneka responds to queries from senators at Parliament yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

Two decades later, genocide orphans are still facing several difficulties to recover the assets left by their parents killed in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The only survivor of his family, Karekezi learned that his parents owned land in Nyabitare Cell, Nyarubuye Sector in Eastern Province’s Kirehe District as he grew up.

He said what disheartens him most about the occupation of the land is that some of its occupants are people he believed perpetrated the Genocide.

“What I need is my land back because it’s a shame for people who killed my people to live off our family land,” he said.

Karekezi said he wrote a letter to the Ministry of Local Government to protest the illegal occupation of his land after officials allegedly told him to give up on his parents’ land.

Jean Damascène Nsanzumuhire, legal advisor and helpline coordinator at AERG, the association of students who are Genocide survivors, said orphans often have less means to seek justice in comparison to their oppressors [who are mostly well-off economically].

He told The New Times that there is need for a framework under which the government could assist orphans in courts.

“Some of them are losing the cases because they don’t have the same level of means as those who took their property,” Nsanzumuhire said.

Asked whether he believed the number of Genocide orphans who claim property left by their parents is about to end, the legal advisor said the challenge is far from over.

“Issues are still there and they will probably never be completely solved,” he said.

Lack of information still hinders recovery of property for more than 300 orphans of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, whose assets were illegally taken over by ‘dishonest persons’ after the slaughter.

Local Government and Social Affairs minister Francis Kaboneka revealed the challenge to the Senate yesterday while presenting the progress on what government had done to help hundreds of Genocide survivors regain their assets.

Cases handled

Kaboneka said only 331 cases remain unresolved out of 1,283 disputes over grabbed properties that were documented countrywide by a taskforce established last year by the Prime Minister’s office.

For the cases that remain unresolved, the major challenge is lack of information as some orphans have no tangible evidence to prove that their parents owned the property they claim.

Some of the orphans have also failed to prove that their parents owned money in banks and savings in the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) before they passed away.

However, the most challenging issue, Kaboneka said, has been about finding land for the orphans when theirs has been taken over by their foster parents who raised them but did not put the assets in the names of the orphans, or other persons who occupied vacant portions of land after the Genocide.

As for the orphans who presented credible information about their properties, officials have held negotiations with them to find them new plots of land in case their offenders cannot leave or pay for the properties, he said.

The government has also been working with banks and the RSSB to seek information about investments and savings made by the orphans’ parents before they were killed in the Genocide.

“The orphans keep getting new information and start over their cases. We will keep listening to them and analysing their cases to find solutions for them,” Kaboneka told the senators.

For cases that are not in courts and are being handled by local officials at different levels of negotiations, the minister said the issues could be solved in the next two months.

“A lot has been done but the remaining cases should also be solved soon. The coordination between institutions is needed in the process,” he said.

Among the more than 300 Genocide orphans whose properties remain occupied is 28-year-old Jean Karekezi, a third-year student at Kigali Institute of Management.

For the last 15 years, Karekezi has been trying to get back his land of 3 hectares from families who occupied it when his parents died in the Genocide.

“I haven’t gotten an answer up to now. I got completely discouraged after trying many times to get my land back in vain. I now live in fear because people who occupy the land don’t like it when I ask for it,” he told The New Times.

At the session, senators once again urged government to move fast to help Genocide orphans recover their assets.

“Genocide survivors feel traumatised twice when they don’t get their rights,” said Senator Gerturde Kazarwa.

Slightly revised by Al.G

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