Just 25 years removed from the brutal murder of nearly 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus and security forces, the predominantly Christian country of Rwanda looks much different today. The Rwandan churches and the government have together stressed since the atrocities, the need to live as “one” body under Christ, and as “one Rwanda.” The genocide against the Tutsi, was one of the worst atrocities in world history. With the permeation of extremist anti-Tutsi ideology through radio and newspapers, thousands of Hutus were pushed to mass violence after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down on April 6, 1994.
In the 100 days following, at least 800,000 people were killed, most of whom were minority Tutsis or moderate Hutus accused of being Tutsi lovers. Despite Rwanda being about 90% Christian at the time, neighbours killed neighbours and Christians killed Christians in some of the most horrific ways imaginable. No mercy was spared even for children and infants. In some cases, babies were killed while in their mother’s arms. In addition, security forces were also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Tutsis, many of whom were killed inside churches or other buildings they were told would be safe.
Today, the nation is largely unified and serves as an example of how a nation scarred from genocide can pull together with the help of government, churches and non-profits to overcome ethnic division. With neighbours having killed neighbours, the only way forward for many communities was for people to genuinely embrace the radical forgiveness expected of them by their saviour, Jesus Christ. Whilst pain still exists at individual and family levels, tribal tension generally isn’t felt at a national level anymore. With reconciliation having occurred in many communities, the focus now is how to improve the quality of life for people living in the nation of 12 million people.
Unity and reconciliation have been a national goal set by President Paul Kagame, the former military leader who ended the genocide. Kagame has been elected to three terms since he took office in 2000 and his current term ends in 2024. Despite concerns about how the government has silenced political dissent, Rwandans generally are largely appreciative of the push the Government has made in the last 25 years in challenging Rwandans to seek forgiveness, reconcile and work together to improve Rwanda. After the genocide, about 100,000 Hutus were arrested and imprisoned for alleged involvement in the genocide, some of whom were innocent, locals say.
It would have taken over a lifetime to handle all those cases. Struggling to dole out justice on such a massive scale, the federal government instituted a system of community justice in the early 2000s called the “Gacaca” court, where perpetrators could be tried among their peers in their communities who witnessed the crimes they committed. Along with that was the idea that perpetrators should go back to their communities to seek forgiveness. Several perpetrators were let out of prison to be tried in their community courts where victims could attest to the crimes they committed. In many cases, perpetrators were forgiven by their victims.
Jean Bosco, a Catholic priest serving in the rural village of Rugango in Rwanda’s Southern Province, told reporters who visited him “Because there was one mission to reunite Rwandans and build the country, it was easy for the government and the church to come together to make that a reality.” Bosco’s parish, with the help of World Vision Rwanda, set up classes for genocide perpetrators and victims to help them embrace the biblical call to forgive those who trespassed against them and call for those who have wronged to repent. The classes were open to all community members even if they were not Christian.
Bosco’s parish is one of many churches that have partnered with World Vision to help foster reconciliation among Hutu and Tutsis in their communities. The parish launched a second group of perpetrators and survivors that are now going through the months-long course. Rugango community leaders plan to hold more reconciliation classes in the future. So far, over 160 people in their village have taken the course. “Despite the fact that it has been 25 years, those memories never go away,” the class’ facilitator Mukankrange Vestine, who lost several members of her own family, said. “So, they are blessed to leave them behind.”
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