On December 11, 2014, Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) decided digitization was the best way to preserve more than 63 million Gacaca trial Archives. As of 2017, almost 35 million archives have been scanned, according to The New Times. The digitization of the millions of archives is important for preserving the history of Rwanda and the truth of its genocide through first-person accounts gathered during the community judicial proceedings. Digitization allows records to be searchable, verified, and universally accessible, but the question remains: which archives will be available for public viewing and which archives will the government censor?

Once all records have digital copies, the government and CNLG will decide which ones to make public. Scanning should be completed by June 2018. All 63 million Gacaca archives should be made universally accessible to educate the Rwandan youth on the genocide through uncensored accounts of the truth. Almost half of Rwandans were born after the 1994 genocide, National Geographic reported, and have no “direct memorial link” to the events, thus the Gacaca Community Justice prescribes a complete release of records yields a full scope of events to the younger generation.

Teaching history

Prior to 1994, the history curriculum for primary and secondary schools in Rwanda was based on “discrimination, divisionism, and victimization” of the Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities from colonial perspectives, said John Rutayisire, director general of the Rwanda Education Board.

In 2005, schools began teaching a new curriculum that stressed Rwandan unity rather than ethnic divisions. Paul Rusesabagina believes the government rewrote Rwandan history with the new curriculum, and Timothy Longman of Boston University added that “one of the major challenges in Rwanda is that the government in power has always interpreted the history to serve their political needs.”

Gacaca archives offer firsthand accounts and memories of lives lost and damaged during the genocide.

It is important for emerging young leaders and citizens of Rwanda, who were not alive during the genocide, to understand what happened and why through the archives. Digitization of the records improves the accessibility of the truth to students, scholars, historians, victims, families, and lawyers. The current archives are not universally accessible and are faded, damaged, unorganized, or lost due to human error or misplacement during transit, The New Times reported.

This is problematic since there is no back up of the archives, thus whatever has survived since the Gacaca trials started more than 20 years ago is what is left of history.

The uncensored digitized archives should be publically available to complement students’ history curriculum with firsthand accounts of the genocide. Government censorship of the archives allows President Paul Kagame and his administration to dictate the narrative of truth, which is not the full truth. Education of the past is a challenge for all post-conflict nations, and having the truth widely available through digitized records directly dismisses claims by genocide perpetrators and supporters that the Rwandan genocide was a civil war or “inter-ethnic conflict," according to The New Times.

Controversy of archives

The publication of these archives may be concerning to some who think victims and their families may carry out extra-judicial actions, such as revenge killings, however, the Gacaca trials were public events and the names and information were literally out in the open prior to archival. Lustration efforts, as seen in Eastern Europe, are unlikely to occur because justice was carried out locally and the release of names furthers the truth and, in return, justice. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a valid concern over ill-intentioned individuals who want to continue the genocide because the archives outline how the genocide was prepared and executed. The post-1994 curriculum combined with universal access to the truth should quell ill-intentioned individuals, although education as a deterrence to violence, though rational, may be too optimistic.

CNLG supports efforts to improve Rwandan literacy on the 1994 genocide specifically to prevent genocide ideology and genocide denial. Rwanda does not have a reading culture so they are neither enthusiastic about reading not are they informed about the truth of the genocide, according to The New Times. It is critical for Rwandan youth to read about the genocide and make informed, conscious, educated decisions on the future of the country and the relationship between citizens.

Archives may have incomplete and false information because some perpetrators and/or victims may have lied during the trials, but the release of all archives will aid in the truth verification process. The Gacaca courts did not verify every fact since the volume of cases was superabundant, however, the release of all records will allow students, lawyers, victims, families, and scholars to verify the testimonies.

Digitization is beneficial because it provides a backup copy of the 63 million paper records and eight thousand audio recordings to protect them from disasters and time. Soft copies of records will be easier to search, which can fast-track justice for victims and their families.

Once digitization efforts are complete, all of the records should be available to the public so that the next generation of Rwandan leaders can keep the memory of the genocide alive. Equipping Rwandan youth with unfiltered, uncensored access to their historical truth is critical to the integrity of the victims and the long-term success of the truth, justice, and reconciliation process.