Rwanda Day 5b

[Sorry for the delay. Recovery and vacation time to Maine took precedence to posting more Rwanda entries.]

In my last entry I spoke of our exposure to prisoners at a local prison–all innocent in their own eyes, or at least deserving of being forgiven and released. All had been convicted by either a federal court or a Gacaca (local) court of genocidal activities.

In the afternoon we invited victims and perpetrators to our retreat house to interview them about their experiences. Jared, a diocese employee, our driver, and wise man brought two victims and one perpetrator to us (in the same car!). We sat under a tree and drank Fantas together, first with the victims and later with the perpetrator. Here’s what we learned:

Victims. We spoke with a woman and two men. The following quotes are through a translator.

The woman told us she was hidden by a Hutu (this is one of the few times we heard this!). She lost her husband and some children in the genocide.

I saw it with my own eyes. People killed people who knew each other. Some of the criminals now live in the community. We share life. Their homes are close. Some of the criminal’s children are seen by me. Their father killed my family. I have forgiven him because he confessed. It is a formula…confess, be forgiven, and live together. But do I forget? No. I see him (the killer) hang back and hesitate to ask for help. Rwanda is a country of sharing but he hesitates to ask. I have to be the one who makes more efforts to connect than he does.

Older man.

I thank God I am alive. It is a miracle. I didn’t expect to survive. There was no place to hide because no friend was left. So, I hid in churches, bushes, and rushes. It was terrible to see. I lost 170 people in my extended family. Remembering is the problem not economical. I knew those doing the killing. I survived by some miracle by moving around and going to another town where they didn’t know if I was a Hutu or a Tutsi….Afterwards, we had to live with those who committed the crimes and now we are trying to cover. Among those who killed, some confessed. They blame the government’s teaching and mobilization. But now they thank God we have a government that wants unity. So, we have to forgive to live together.

Younger man.

I was 11 when the genocide started. Some teachers came to our class and told us, “Tutsi, stand up.” They counted the number of each. I was in the thicket when the killers came. Some Hutus covered me up. When it was over my father was dead. My brother was killed and my sister too in Kigali. Our family was nine. Now we are three. In 2005 I finished school. I have been a judge in the Gacaca courts. It is good that I survived but now I am head of my family and I have to support my mother and my two married sisters (their husbands have to support their own families of origin). But I have no job. I hope to go to university some day.

What is it like to live in the same village with those known to have killed family members?

We are taught to forgive by government but then we see the criminals with their family. So it hurts. His family can achieve what we cannot because they have their whole family. I can’t provide for my family because I am a widow. I could if my husband was still here.

They can hurt you with their words even now. During the three months of memorial they can say things that shows they are proud of what they did.

Does it help to talk about it?

Yes and no. You have to be selective who you talk to. Some one might be happy or proud that I am hurting. I don’t tell it in public because it might be used by someone without good intentions.

How are you feeling about your country?

Today we should build Rwanda together by using Gacac courts to build trust. We try not to be aggressive. Unfortunately, some confess only to get absolution.

Finally, we interviewed a man who is a confessed killer. He is admitted to kill our female victim’s husband. (Remember they came in the same car from the same village. We thought was hard by the woman didn’t think anything of it! EVEN MORE AMAZING, we learned that this man also killed Jared, our translator’s father. Jared didn’t bat an eye when this was revealed to us!).

Since 1967 we learned who is Hutu and Tutsi in school. In 1990 the RPF (rebel Tutsis from Uganda who later became the government) it became worse. People said Tutsis were snakes and taught us this division. “Cut bushes” meant to cut Tutsis with a machete. For me, the genocide started 6 April 1994. When the president was killed I thought Tutsis killed him. They asked us to take revenge and killed the Tutsis. We started the same day. I killed different people. I remember each and every one. It lasted one week. Only a few survived. The RPF stopped us. I was exiled in Tanzania. We came back in 1996. I was arrested and imprisoned. In prison, they mobilized us to ask for forgiveness. I learned that I could be forgiven by God if I confessed. In prison, there were two parties–those who confessed and those who wouldn’t because they wanted to finish the job. Those who sincerely confessed had charges dropped. I was given only 9 years. But in prison, some (we learned later that some meant his own father) some tried to stop me and said the government was tricking us. Now, I’ve been here for 6 years with no problems.

What did you hear in prison?

Some confessed in order to get free. Some wanted to kill me for telling the truth. But I don’t care, I just want to tell the whole truth.

What helped you tell the truth?

The church taught me that you must confess the whole truth to the victim so you can be forgiven by God. Also, once you do this, you have to tell it many times to get it off your heart and to realize what you have done. Yet, it is difficult to come back and live with people whose relatives you killed.

What is the hardest thing for you to deal with?

I’m responsible for their pain. I have flashbacks. I hear them (the victims) crying in my memory.   


Filed under christian psychology, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, deception, Repentance, Rwanda

6 responses to “Rwanda Day 5b

  1. Ryan

    This is gut-wrenching stuff. I know a Tutsi man who escaped the genocide, but I’ve never considered the trauma (albeit self-inflicted) that a penitent Hutu might be dealing with.

    Thank you for your work.

  2. Thanks for this, Phil. I’ve read many things about the forgiveness movement in Rwanda, but these accounts feel so raw and unedited.

    I know I’ll be coming back to refer to this again.

  3. D. Stevenson

    Why, or how do you think it is, that they can live together “without batting an eye?” Is it because you do what you have to do, and they don’t really have any other option?

    What does forgiveness mean to them? (or us, for that matter) It doesn’t seem right that a murderer can go back to life as before, scott-free, just because they “confessed.”

    • I do think they have to. What else can they do. Though not all are able to without decompensation. Frankly, it isn’t “right” to let the confessed go scot free. I will say the accused we met with did spend 7 years in jail. So, he didn’t go completely free nor was his punishment enough either. But do remember, the our forgiveness on the cross isn’t “right” either. And while we may go free, it wasn’t free.

  4. Women have led the world-renowned “gacaca,” community-based trials for more than 100,000 alleged perpetrators of the genocide. Read more about their actions to help Rwanda recover in a series of publications from The Institute for Inclusive Security:

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