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Facing History for Social Healing – Rwanda Survivor


By Claude Shema-Rutagengwa

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)



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Personal and Community Level

In the past, I was thinking most of the time that I was the only one who thought that "remembering is my right" as a victim of the unspeakable genocide , and day-by-day I learn that I share the same thoughts and feelings with other different victims of violent conflict all over the world.

As Martha Minow said, prohibiting the victims from remembering their past suffering is like insulting them and leaving rage to fester (Martha Minow, In Between vengeance and forgiveness, p.118).
The time to remember in my horrible life was when I went through the genocide in 1994, and this helps me to reunite with my family members I lost at that time. It also t helps me to strive for my own peace of mind through honoring them. In so doing, the communal remembering (together with others) helps me to understand the importance of life much more, and confessions made by our former perpetrators contribute positively to the reconciliation process.
Communal Facing History

Remembering is part of human nature, and it helps to overcome post-traumatic stress disorders in many ways. But it is also important to mention that, too much of every thing
(might be) is too bad. In the past, in my home country, we had been trapped under the deep remembering time which had impact on some survivors and non-survivors, even affecting some people who had never been in Rwanda during the genocide, due to the strong testimonies and images of horrible atrocities. This led to the same question asked by Martha Minow: How do we keep the past alive without becoming its prisoner? (Martha M, in Between vengeance and forgiveness, p. 119), and how the significance of righting old wrongs is, or to what extent? (Marc Galanter, righting old wrongs, p. 17).

In Rwanda, we have learned to remember, yes, but through a positive and reconstructive lens, so that the victims of the 21st century's genocide won't be prisoners of the past, in regard for rebuilding a new Rwandese society for a better future. Some genocide survivors righteously did not like the idea because they just want the entire human community to really understand the unspeakable brutal and cruelty they went through. This is also important, to find a way to express yourself, and share your grievance with others, in order to prevent the same chaos and mistake to occur again, and letting your victimizer know that you are "on guard" and you do remember, and pleading for a "never again" slogan.

But as William Gladstone said in his example relating to the conflict in Ireland: the problem is that Irish will never forget and the British will never remember. Thus, we need to meet at a moderate point, remembering for a positive chance, and accepting some degree of forgetfulness for a better dwelling in the future. That would be the best median point.

Some examples in Rwanda

a) TIG

The TIG (community benefits activities) undertaken in the country since the 1994 genocide have been done by convicted perpetrators, and are a good example of restorative justice, because it is a volunteer-or choice- by the convicted genocidaires who chose between spending their sentences in prisons or outside the jail within the community, working for the community. Among others, they build schools, clinical centers, and many other important public and communal infrastructures like roads, etc., or just rebuilding houses - shelters for the survivors of the genocide. Despite some criticism related to Rwanda’s history, which says that before independence (before 1959) Tutsis governed the country in a monarchial dictatorial manner, and Hutus became servants to Tutsis. According to the criticism, they are doing the same “forced works" they were doing during the monarchial era. This also raises another concern of Hutu traumas and may impede a sustainable reconciliation process. On the other hand, it helps healing of Tutsi-survivors of the genocide.

To me, the ideal way to help both sides would be to look through both side's perceptions and needs in the context of justice and rights, so that the concept of TIG would fill up the gaps in terms of perceptions and its sustainability. Otherwise we heal trauma for survivors, which is a greater initiative, but at some point we victimize another category of people. Who will heal them? What is the long term impact on the new traumatized group within society?

b) Story Telling, Confession and Solidarity Rebuilding

Justice Jackson argued to the judges in Nuremberg that, if you were to say of these men that they are not guilty (while you know that), it would be as true to say that there had been no war; nobody slain, no crime (Martha Minow, in Between vengeance and forgiveness, p.123).

That means that we have to face reality of the story in order to skip the label of being prisoners of the past. I am sure this will help remarkably in tackling the possible upheaval, or as a remedy in case of fresh wrongs. (Marc Galanter, righting old wrongs, p.3). Truth telling by genocide perpetrators helps a lot so we can know the truth and heal the psychological wounds, and create a bridge toward reconciliation.

c) Ingando-Solidarity Camps

Apart from Gacaca courts ( regardless the failures encountered so far and for long term), some initiatives conceived by the new Rwandese government, like "Ingando solidarity camps," is one of the best ideas to help in healing wounds and rebuilding trust between Hutus and Tutsis at different levels of society (youth, women, leaders, etc.). Because it brings together both ethnic groups, to play together, sing and dance together, and sleep under the same roof and in the same house.
Ingando is an old traditional word which literally means "long-last gathering," and it is a pathway for a better future of Rwandese, especially if it could be combined with some other relevant ingredients and pillars of human basic needs claimed by both the wrongdoers’ families and victims.