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25,000 Genocide convicts reconcile with survivors through Prison Fellowship

Chantal Mutuyimana stood in a crowd in Kayonza District and spoke. The mood was sombre but her conciliatory tone lifted the spirit. The 34-year-old said: “I have left my two-year-old child in the care of a man who killed seven members of my family duing the Genocide.

Chantal Mutuyimana stood in a crowd in Kayonza District and spoke. The mood was sombre but her conciliatory tone lifted the spirit. The 34-year-old said: “I have left my two-year-old child in the care of a man who killed seven members of my family duing the Genocide. But am I worried for her safety? No. There was then and there is today; I know my child is in safe hands.”

Mutuyimana was speaking at a reconciliation ceremony, last week, in Nyamirama Sector, Kayonza District, where 21 Genocide convicts confessed their crimes and asked forgiveness from survivors.

The audience comprised residents, Genocide convicts, and survivors; some members of the Rwanda Elders Advisory Council, representatives of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission.

“Some 13 years ago, I was very frightened that he could kill me as he did to my relatives and parents back in 1994. But now, I don’t have fear that he might do anything wrong to my toddler. The person who committed genocide crimes against my family members is now a guardian of my child,” she said.

“He gives him food when hungry, and looks after my livestock; I do the same for him,” said Mutuyimana, adding that they sing and dance in the same unity and reconciliation club.

Mutuyimana is living with the former Genocide convict in “Ubumwe n’Ubwiyunge Village” in Musanze District, following his confession.

He asked for forgiveness, which Mutuyimana granted him.

The village consists of 183 households, including former genocide perpetrators, survivors, and former members of FDLR.

It is a unity and reconciliation community, where ex-prisoners live peacefully side-by-side with genocide survivors as a sign of practical reconciliation.

It was set up by Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR), a faith-based non-profit organisation created in 1995.

The village works in line with government of Rwanda and its relevant agencies, partners and volunteers to foster reconciliation, transformation, crime prevention, and development in Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide.

So far, over 25,000 prisoners convicted of Genocide across various correctional centres have admitted to their crimes through Prison Fellowship Rwanda’s conciliatory programme, according to Bishop John Rucyahana, the Chairman of the Organisation.

Speaking during the event in Kayonza, Rucyahana said Prison Fellowship wanted to work with other partners in healing the hearts of Rwandans to ensure practical reconciliation by starting from mindset.

Rucyahana, who is also the president of National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), said some had lied to their families that they were jailed while innocent.

“They denied crimes yet they were caught holding blood stained machetes [that they had used to kill people during the genocide]. But now, they have admitted to their crimes they committed, and confessed,” he said.

“Some are going to return to their communities, they should be role models to others, and tell the truth. We have to follow them up,” he noted.

A total of 661 prisoners from Rwamagana Prison wrote to 1,067 families of genocide survivors, asking for forgiveness.

Jean Pierre Habimana, a Genocide convict at Rwamagana Prison, admitted to killing many people, including five members of François Ngarambe’s family. Ngarambe is Genocide survivor and resident of Nyamirama Sector.

Habimana, a resident of Nyamirama Sector in Kayonza District, is one of the third batch of 21 prisoners who confessed last Thursday. The conciliatory activity takes up to six months.

“I, together with other perpetrators killed children and dumped their bodies in a pit latrine. I killed Mukashawiga’s five children. I also shot dead a man called Rubigiza with an arrow,” he confessed.

Habimana said with confession, his children would no longer think that he was jailed for a crime he did not commit.

“I committed terrible genocide crimes and looted cows, goats, iron sheets and doors belonging to people I hunted down to kill during the Genocide.It has been haunting me, I beg for forgiveness,” he said.

Confession removes suspicion

Angelique Musabyimana, 21, a daughter of Habimana, said since childhood, she had never known the reason for his father’s imprisonment until he revealed it in public and asked for forgiveness.

“My parents did not tell the truth about fathers’ sentence. Now I know that he was jailed for serious crimes he committed during the Genocide,” she told The New Times, noting that the move has improved their relations with the victims’ families.

“We had become like enemies of the families of the perpetrators with their thoughts that we were responsible for their family members’ predicament. Yet, we were aggrieved when they killed our beloved ones. That misconception has been shocking us,” said Ngarambe, 67.

“Now that they have confessed, the truth has been revealed and we are relieved,” he said after forgiving Jean Pierre Habimana who, he said, together with other perpetrators, killed his seven children.

Jeanne Chantal Ujeneza, the deputy commissioner-general for Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS), said everyone should make a step in encouraging genocide perpetrators to admit crimes and seek forgiveness, adding that this is one of the means to eradicate genocide ideology and denial by engaging prisoners.

“Telling the truth about the crimes helps prevent genocide ideology, especially among children who take food to their fathers or grandfathers who are jailed for Genocide,” she said.

The 2015 Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer’s findings showed that on average reconciliation among Rwandans was at 92.5 per cent in 2015 from 82.3 per cent in 2010.

However, it also revealed challenges that may hamper reconciliation process, such as ethnic-based stereotypes, as expressed by 27.9 per cent of citizens; persistence of genocide ideology, as voiced by 25.8 per cent of citizens, and the wounds resulting from the divisive past and the genocide not yet fully healed, as reported by 4.6 per cent of citizens.

Bishop Rucyahana said: “We wanted unity and reconciliation which is not verbal or theoretical. We wanted practical unity and reconciliation that will contribute to inclusive development for all Rwandans.”

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