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As part of the national move towards unity and reconciliation, Trócaire’s partner in Rwanda, the Commission for Justice and Peace, helps to bring together survivors and perpetrators of the genocide, to build lasting reconciliation between them.
Immaculée, now 54, lost all of her relatives including her husband and three children. Vianney, aged 60, was a perpetrator in the genocide against the Tutsis. Together they are proof of just how valuable this reconciliation programme has been.
Both were in very dark places trying to cope in the aftermath of the genocide. “I lost hope in life for long time,” Immaculée said.
Vianney too was struggling. “For me, it has been a long journey,” he said. “At a time, I did consider suicide because I couldn’t bear to look back at what I had done,” he said.
Along with prayer and religion, it was the Commission for Justice and Peace that changed their lives. Around 10 years ago, Immaculée helped to form her local group.
“The Commission noticed that there were open social conflicts between perpetrators and survivors, so they approached us to see if something could be done,” she explained.
“At the start I couldn’t understand how I would ever be able to tell others and talk about what had happened to me. But when I joined, I then realised that both survivors and perpetrators were traumatised in one way or another.”
It was at this time that Immaculée had also turned to God. She began attending the same church as Vianney – a neighbour and family friend of Immaculée’s before the genocide. But she now suspected he had killed some of her family members, including her nine year old son.
Desperate for forgiveness and noticing that Immaculée was beginning to change after joining the peace and reconciliation group, Vianney wondered if she might consider talking to him.
“One of the strategies I used, was to start to see if I could sit near her in the church. One day one of the readings was about how love should prevail over hatred. I decided then that I would do something.”
When Vianney approached Immaculée, she listened to him, and she believes that prayer gave her the strength to do so.
“I would say that Prayer is so powerful. After praying, I became a different person. When he talked to me [that day] about love versus hatred – that is how the whole journey really started.”
Vianney confessed to her that he had killed two of her cousins but assured her he was not the person who killed her son.
“To tell you the truth – I wasn’t immediately convinced – I was still suspecting him – but as the journey continued I believed he didn’t kill my child.”
Immaculée invited Vianney to join the reconciliation group and for three years they worked hard to build trust and understanding through group activities, meetings and mediation.
In the beginning it was difficult – Immaculée was still frightened of Vianney. But with perseverance and support from the facilitators and other members, they began talking and grew closer.
Trócaire started working with the Commission for Justice and Peace shortly after the genocide, providing vital trauma counselling and healing support, and helping to break down divisions in communities across Rwanda.
Today this group has almost 70 members, and with similar programmes taking place throughout the country, they are an incredible testament to what can be achieved by working together.
The group of survivors and perpetrators still meet regularly where they talk about their journey and help other members who are struggling. They also carryout solidarity activities such as working together in each other’s farms, taking care of the local genocide memorial and organising special Mass services.
People from other villages have recognised how well this is working and there are always new people approaching them to seek advice to start their own journey.
Asked if she forgives Vianney, Immaculée believes they have reached the destination of their reconciliation journey and have become good friends. But critical to this was Vianney’s honesty and the fact that he showed her where the bodies of some of her relatives were.
“Having been shown where my relatives were and being able to bury them in dignity, that was a big step for me in reconciliation,” she explained.
There is no doubt that Immaculée’s faith has led to a huge transformation, and most likely saved her life. But she sees the greatest impact of this journey on others and is proud that she can help many others like herself out of their despair and onto their own path of reconciliation and hope.
Understanding what division can lead to, they see no place for it in their society. As such, Immaculée and Vianney will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the genocide side by side along with many others in the same position.
They no longer have ethnic groups but instead look on each other as brothers and sisters, as one Rwanda. And while the country moves on, the people never want to forget. They want the world to know and learn from their story so it can never happen again.
“We are grateful that the Commission operates, thanks to the support of Trócaire. It is important that we give our testimony so that the younger generation have it on record and can improve the future,” added Immaculée.