Editor’s note: All names have been changed.
At the entrance to Nyarugenge Prison in Kigali, Rwanda, armed guards stand beside painted letters that read, “No Corruption.” Through the gates, I spot guards escorting inmates around. Prisoners wear pink if they are awaiting a sentence, and orange if they are serving one.
During the three-month long Rwandan Genocide 20 years ago, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died at the hands of their friends, neighbors, and colleagues. After the catastrophe ended, a huge amount of people needed to be prosecuted, but there were limited resources to conduct the trials. To speed up the prosecution procedure, a system of local justice called gacaca courts was brought in. Trials were held in villages, where victims and their families publicly confronted the accused before their communities.
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Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, the country is still coming to terms with what took place during that period of extreme violence. Perpetrators are still being brought to justice, and heroic stories are still emerging.
One such story belongs to Zula Karuhimbi, a woman some Rwandans claim saved more than 100 people through “sorcery.”
After we learned that she lived in the southern Ruhango District, we drove from Kigali to find her. On the way, we stopped at a roadside restaurant, where we told the waiter we were searching for the “witch” who had saved lives during the genocide. “The witch who was honored by the government?” a customer asked. “I know where she lives. I’ll take you to her.”
He brought us to Musamo Village, where we abandoned our car and ploughed by foot through waist-high shrubbery. Turning into an enclosure, we found Karuhimbi asleep on a straw mat outside a tiny house. She was hugging a small child, who, we later discovered, was an orphaned boy she had recently adopted.
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