When Grace came to the Rwanda Youth Healing Center she was severely depressed. She says “I was always crying. I was hopeless about life because I thought was alone on the earth.” Grace lost her parents at age 10 during genocidal violence. She was young, and couldn’t understand why her friends and neighbors suddenly turned on her family. “Hutus were our friends. I was even about to be baptized and my Godmother who was a nun, is the one who gave up my mother (to the killers).” For this about-face she blames politicians. “They are the ones who brainwashed our people to slash our parents, brothers and friends.”
Grace says she knows who killed her mother. She heard from many in her community that he confessed on the radio, but when it came to his day in gacaca courts… Grace says he lied.
Still stinging from the murderous betrayals, Grace admits she’s not sure if she can forgive in the same way as many of her peers. “When a killer comes and asks for forgiveness and if it’s from his heart, you can forgive him. But when he killed your people and avoids you, that means he could also kill you if he’s able.” It’s with this in mind that she says she will never feel fully safe in her own country. She cries when she admits she believes the genocide could happen again “A savage heart is still there. That’s the way I see it. So I am always ready because I know that it can happen anytime. "
Despite the horrors and understandable trust issues, Grace found the strength to go to law school. Her ultimate goal? Stand up for orphans and children. “The fact that I’m at university that I’m studying, just gives me hope. Yes, it’s hard and difficult, but it gives me hope.”
Agnes Mushimiyimana admits her relationship with REACH got off to a rocky start. She says she didn’t know the program coordinators were inviting not only wives of genocide victims, but the wives of the perpetrators too. Seeing her enemies wasn’t easy. “When I saw those wives I felt like beating them…I thought they’re like the Interahamwe.”
Agnes had every reason to be angry. Genocidal militias killed her husband and tortured her with the sight of his mutilated body parts. She fled from home to home seeking refuge. Finally, they found her, beat her and raped her. Even after the RPF arrived to end the genocide in her village, she suffered violence from the families of the people who killed her family. It seemed the cycle of bloodshed would go on indefinitely. She was hopeless. “I was traumatized, I had mental problems, I even stayed in the hospital for crazy people for 3 months. Because I had the chance to get out of there, I feel like I don’t want to go back there.”
When REACH arrived, Agnes says everything changed. “They put us in contact with those people I considered my enemies. But, because of the teaching we had, especially those based on the word of God, so many things have helped to reconstruct me.” Agnes found the courage to go to Gacaca court and tell her story. The court ruled that the people who murdered her family must give back her property and livestock. At first, this made some of them retaliate. But, eventually, Agnes says the spirit of reconciliation spread. “They asked for forgiveness and I forgave them. But to be able to give them forgiveness is because of the strength I got from REACH.”
Agnes believes all Rwandans are now anti-genocide, or soon will be. She says everyone lost during those 100 days in 1994, and children are growing up orphans either because their parents are in jail or because they were killed. She believes this means the next generation of Rwandans will know the true cost of civil war. “So every Rwandan, if they think about it, they can have the strength to build the country.”
Agnes now focuses her energy on the future. She takes care of the war orphans in her community. “Now because of expressing what happened to me that has made me strong and given me the strength to live and help myself. Because life continues, there is no other alternative.”
Domitilie believes Paul was murdered for his role as judge in the local Gacaca Court. Gacaca (Ga-CHA-cha), which literally means “justice on the grass” was resurrected to try genocide offenders in 2001, with three goals: reconstructing what happened during the genocide, speeding up legal proceedings, and the reconciliation of all Rwandans. But, brutish perpetrators of the 1994 killings and their supporters have threatened the success of the Gacaca system by harassing (or killing) victims and judges.
Genocide Survivor Killed
A genocide survivor, Paul Rutayisire was murdered by an angry gang seeking retaliation in October 2007. After fighting back tears she says, ” Whenever I think of how I found him dead and how they had cut him, sometimes I feel like running mad and running into the streets.”
Despite the dangers, Paul Rutayisire saw the Gacaca Courts as an opportunity to help heal the southern provinces of Rwanda. Domitilie explains “he was a truthful man, he was very just, he liked justice.” Paul was also president of his local chapter of the survivors association “Ibuka,” which means “remember” in Kinyarwanda. Although a leader to many, those who oppose reconciliation and unity saw Paul as a personification of their problems.
Ibuka reports say eight conspirators gathered at a local bar on the night of October 15, 2007. When they saw Paul, they hatched a plan to murder him.
Domitile says she couldn’t sleep the night Paul didn’t come home. Threats of violence and rumors against Paul had been mounting for days. She knew in her gut that he had been killed well before she began searching the streets. Domitile can still recall being the first person to find Paul’s body. He was hacked to death with an axe, the same way more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the genocide 1994. Domitilie asserts Paul’s death was meant to send a political message of intimidation.
Only four of the nine suspects in Paul’s death were given life sentences in Gacaca Court; five were acquitted and set free. Domitile says she wants to find peace, but can’t unless the perpetrators of her husband’s death ask for forgiveness. “We wanted to reconcile but they couldn’t accept. Even now they don’t want to reconcile with us. Instead they are still trying to kill us.”
Feeling Unsafe at Home
Domitilie is left with her 8 children, ranging in age from 2 to 21. Paul’s sister Elisabeth helps, but she lives 20 minutes away up a rutted red dirt road in Huye (formerly known as Butare, Rwanda’s second largest city). After Paul’s murder Elisabeth tried to help Domitlie move her family closer to the sector office for better protection. Elisabeth says local officials refused, afraid that moving the family would scare the neighbors. Despite a government ban on formally identifying Hutus and Tutsis, today she feels unsafe at home and is worried about receiving visitors. She fears her neighbors will infer she is talking about Paul’s murder. She refutes claims that reconciliation works, “In prisons (the killers) accept what they did and they are forgiven, where they explain what they did, people they killed, all the bad things they did. And then they are forgiven and then they are brought back to where they lived, and they do it again. ”
Paul is one of more than 150 genocide survivors to be murdered since 1995, according to Ibuka. In recent years Ibuka data show the killings have increased as more survivors have testified against neighbors who killed their families.
Domitilie speaks passionately saying that many of her neighbors and people around the country are wrong, “They want to show the whole world that there’s peace in Rwanda. But for sure there’s no peace in Rwanda, because the victims are still in danger. The hands that killed still have the intention to kill once again.”