Bugesera: Irreversible Pardon to Genocide Perpetrators

The Story is all about Genocide perpetrators and Genocide Survivors who are enjoying the fruits of Unity and reconciliation as a result of an extensive fellowship and effort of the Government of Rwanda and its partners who saw that people should put aside bad history and start writing a new chapter of their lives.

The community is located in Bugesera District in the Eastern province of Rwanda taking the road from the capital city of Kigali heading to Tanzania and Burundi using the same road.

Arriving in this village you will find a four line asphalt road passing in the plane valley of Bugesera to IGITI CY’UMUVUMU village in Rweru Sector.

People living in this village are categorized in three groups: Genocide Survivors, Genocide perpetrators and returnees who came from neighboring countries after Rwanda Patriotic Front liberation war.

Available documents show that before the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi there were some acts of dehumanization in Rwanda

Tutsis were given names that labeled them as animals, insects, snakes, etc., with the intention of nurturing hate against them.

Residents in the community recount themselves and even the History emphasized that in 1959 and even before Tutsis were relocated to Bugesera to be killed by various diseases especially to be bit by bloodsucking flies known as Tsetse.

This means that the plan to eliminate Tutsi was planned even before as highlighted by various historians.

According to testimonies the open Killings started in 1992 in Bugesera and in 1994 the mission was to totally eliminate Tutsi Ethnics.

Hutus killed Tutsis.

“Imagine where a Hutu ordered to cut the womb of a pregnant woman and ask to remove a baby saying they are removing a snake in the womb and after he ordered the killing of that kid. I would say that those people were more than killers. Ordering the cut of the womb of the woman thinking you are removing the snake from her, how could you think the woman would survive?” One of the survivors told a group of national and internal students during a field visit conducted at the site on this Wednesday 18th 2018 to understand the subject of “Genocide and Mass atrocities”: causes, actors and responses.

That question shows a terrible and atrocious part of Rwandan history. No one imagined that reconciliation would be possible without the power of God and with a visionary Government that gave the utmost importance to the unity and reconciliation of a country totally torn apart by the divisionism that led to the 1994 Genocide where more than one million Tutsis were killed.

Because trying offenders in the Rwandan courts and the UN tribunal would take hundreds of years, the government decided instead to resurrect a traditional conflict resolution process called Gacaca.  These were local, open-air hearings overseen by “People of Integrity (Inyangamugayo)” who have been elected by their neighbors.

Although ringleaders of the genocide were not eligible, a large majority of prisoners have been tried in these informal processes.

Those who were found responsible have been sentenced to prison or to community service, or to a combination of both.

Prison Fellowship Rwanda, a local NGO, saw the potential for renewed violence and decided to act.  PF Rwanda, a Christian outreach to prisoners, had begun to minister in the genocide prisons soon after they were built.

In addition to providing spiritual assistance, it has also addressed problems of sanitation and the lack of medical assistance.

In December 2001, a team of people organized by the PFI Centre for Justice and Reconciliation (PFICJR) met in Rwanda to discuss how to prepare prisoners for the Gacaca hearings and their subsequent release.

Most of the team members were Rwandan, although two representatives joined from the US and England.

After conversations with victim support groups, elected officials and prisoners, the team decided to adapt Prison Fellowship International’s Sycamore Tree Project.

IGITI CY’UMUVUMU IN BUGESERA

Named after the Biblical account of Zacchaeus, the Sycamore Tree Project brings prisoners and victims together over a period of eight meetings to discuss what the Bible says about:

Recounting how the Unity process started, Izagiriza Maria whose children and husband were killed by her neighbors says “At that time we participated in different sessions organized by the Organization called “Prison Fellowship”. They came and we were educated through the Bible.

“They preached the message about Zacchaeus, how he was very short and when Jesus came, the Man was unable to see him and he decided to climb Sycamore Tree in order to be able to see him.” Izagiriza said

In reality, the Zacchaeus story was used to prepare the targeted group especially Genocide perpetrators to acknowledge their responsibility, confess, repent and for Survivors to forgive, amend and reconcile

“I knew that my children and my husband were killed after coming back from refugee camp. I did not know who killed them except the fact that I knew they were killed by Hutus but I didn’t know exactly who killed them?

“I stayed with my little girl and when I felt distress I always started to sing.

“If we didn’t have this reconciliation program facilitated by Prison Fellowship and good leadership, we would have continued to living in the dilemma,

“I did not know who killed my child and my husband. But after the program, people started to come out and give testimonies. Some who were unable or stigmatized by what they did, they wrote down them on paper,

“Really we realized that some of people that we were suspecting had had no role in the death of ours.

“Today we have been able to know who killed our children. We live together; our children are married to each other irrespective where they come from,” Izagiriza said.

She adds that “During a Testimony, Ntezirizaza testified that he has killed my family member. Because I was convinced by Zacchaeus story, I forgave him irreversibly. I will never turn back reverse my own decision to forgive him.”

Izagiriza told a group of students who were very attentive listening to her testimony that the hardest part was telling the victims and survivors that they must forgive — for their own sake, first

For Genocide perpetrators, it was a very hard task to come out and tell all they have done in the Genocide.

Ntezirizaza Philbert who killed Izagiriza’s family members said “I lived in all Genocidal Governments and I was taught for a long time that Batutsi are wicked and evil. For me killing Tutsi was a responsibility to praise the Government,

“I have played a role in the killing of two kids of Maria and her husband,

“Such hate we had when the Genocidal Government collapsed we run side by side seeking harbour in neighboring countries

“The time came and the Unity Government started the repatriation program to bring back all refugees who were outside the country,

“I was among people who came first. I was jailed and later the fellowship program came in Prison, I wrote down all we have done during Genocide and asked for forgiveness to the Government of Rwanda and to the survivors

“After 2 years we had Presidential Pardon and since then we continue the journey to build our community,

“Through the Prison Fellowship program, they started bringing together perpetrators and survivors to work together “Ntezirizaza said

He pointed out that “The bricks used to construct these houses were made by our own hands.”

“During that time I was very afraid of meeting with Izagiriza. I was always in a stigma.

“Slowly by slowly I started to greet her and he greeted me too. The first day I shared a drink with Izagiriza is the first day I was released from the prison.” He says.

Was not an easy step

Ntezirizaza noted that the process which led to the reconciliation in this community was not an easy task.

“It was not an easy task to come out and ask for forgiveness” He said.

“Today children of Izagiriza see me as a friend of the family and my children see her as a parent.” He said

Strong Unity

There was a time when Izagiriza’s only girl was preparing for wedding.

The Family invited Ntezirizaza in a wedding ceremony, however things were not easy.

“I was asking myself, how come that family is inviting me in the wedding ceremony of that Girl and they knew that I killed their family members

“If you are Izagiriza and have never participated in unity and reconciliation discussions, would you invite someone who killed your family in your child’s marriage?” He asks

Ntezirizaza narrated how the two families reached the truthful reconciliation when her daughter had the baptism ceremony and he was looking for a Godmother for her daughter and finally found that the daughter of Izagiriza should be her daughter Godmother.

“I went to the family and I asked them and immediately Izagiriza’s daughter agreed to be a Godmother of my daughter,” He says

Marriage and Forgiveness that gives light to the broken hearts

In 2005, the Government and partners built 30 houses to accommodate Genocide perpetrators, Genocide Survivors and needy returnees who had no shelters.

This was a pilot project in this village which has currently 110 households.

In 2008 other 80 houses were constructed and other people started to be relocated in this village.

Today the community thanked so much Pastor Deo Gashagaza, AEGIS TRUST and National Unity and Reconciliation for all efforts put together to make the community unified and peaceful than ever.

Giraneza John who married a woman from the Genocide perpetrator family testifies how things started and ended up with the eternal union with her lovely wife.

Besides to his tragic past, Giraneza recounts that “At the beginning, people were very suspicious to live in those houses because they thought killers would return to kill them,

“I myself bought a machete and I was ready to defend myself once the killer returns,

“However as days went on they continued to teach us and I realized that I am sticking in darkness and I took decision to forgive.

Sunset viewed in Bugesera few meters from IGITI CY’UMUVUMU Village

“The Day I forgave those who killed my family I started to see the light. After forgiving that is when I started to see the sunset,

“As I was reaching my 35 years old, I started to look for a fiancé.  I asked God, I know the beautiful wife is given by God and now I need a wife,

“God has given this beautiful wife as you see. What I am happy for, is that God has given me a beautiful wife and family.

“We have beautiful and handsome children. They are neither Tutsi nor Hutus or Twa. They are Rwandans and I and my wife always train them to remain Rwandan and keep that spirit forever “Giraneza concludes.

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