RWANDA, Africa – This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. During that time of violence, at least 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days, mainly Tutsis at the hands of radical Hutus.
On April 6, 1994, Rwanda’s Hutu President, Juvenal Habyarimana, was killed in a plane crash. The incident is credited with igniting the genocide. Radical Hutus accused Tutsis of shooting down his plane. It is still not known who was responsible, but the violence that followed the incident will never be forgotten.
During the genocide, Alice Mukaruinda spent her days in hiding.
Hiding Among Dead Bodies
“We would either hide under the dead bodies when we heard them come to start shooting or dig a place to hide. Because I had a baby, a young baby I couldn’t do any of that. I would just sit in the water,” she recalled.
On April 29, 1994, Alice was discovered by genocide perpetrators.
“They Took My Baby and Cut Her in Two Pieces”
“The Interahamwe Militia had operating hours. There was a whistle that would go at 10 a.m. and then that marking the start and 3 p.m. marking the end. And so we knew those hours and we would go and hide. And on that day we did the same,” said Alice.
“They took my baby and cut her in two pieces,” said Alice.
Today she still has the scars that show the beating and mutilation she endured. Attackers also brutally beat her husband, but he was saved by rescue workers.
“When he started to come back to his senses. He remembered that they had left me. And he asked the military and the police to take him back to where I was,” she said.
The Long Road to Reconciliation
After the genocide humanitarian organizations like World Vision were on the ground, with first aid, food, and medicine. The group also played a major role in reconciliation efforts.
“You cannot think of long term development if people are disconnected, not united,” said Ananias Sentozi, Operations Manager for World Vision Rwanda.
During and before the genocide Hutu Militia pushed propaganda and encouraged citizens to participate in the killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. After the genocide many of those responsible flooded the criminal system.
Allowing Criminals to Seek Forgiveness
President Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current President, refused to use killing as punishment and abolished the death penalty. Instead, he offered another solution; a system of community courts called Gacaca. It allowed criminals to confess and seek forgiveness.
“I started forgiving myself when I stood in front of the court,” said Emmanuel Nadayisaba.
He confessed his crimes and after prison became a community-building volunteer. While working he realized he was actually on a team with one of his victims, although she had no idea who he was.
“We both joined that association of peacebuilding and reconciliation that World Vision was involved in,” said Alice as she recalled meeting Emmanuel.
After her attack, Alice said a prayer and asked God to bring her to those who wronged her and to lead her to forgiveness. “I wanted to be close to God and not just be on the surface.”
Alice Meets Her Attacker Face-to-Face
She didn’t think her prayer would be answered, and then one day Emmanuel asked to speak with her.
“I was all sweaty. I was very nervous. Everything was hot everywhere. I fell down on my knees and raised my hands up and told her that I’m the person who was responsible,” said Emmanuel.
When Alice heard his confession, she fainted. “The next thing I remember I was at the hospital. I didn’t respond. I guess I was in shock.”
“I was still on my knees when she fainted and they took her away, said Emmanuel.
Days later Alice asked to meet with Emmanuel, all she asked of him was that he apologize to her family. She then became an advocate for him in court.
“She helped me open the case. And plead for mercy. I was able to not go back to prison,” said Emmanuel.
Alice said The Lord gave her the strength to forgive Emmanuel, “it’s only God. I can’t explain it. It’s only God nothing else. No one else.”
As a symbol of unity, Alice and Emmanuel planted fruit trees together in front of each of their homes. Their hope is that their grandchildren and others will eat the fruit of their reconciliation.