A community in Nyaruguru district, southern Rwanda, was left in both shock and happiness when a man confessed to a a neighbor that he had been part of interahamwe gang that killed her family.
The incident happened during a community outreach session conducted by a social action group AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent), in Bungi cell, Rusenge sector of Nyaruguru district this past week.
The community sessions are being attended by 40 individuals from the region, including genocide survivors and those from families of genocide convicts.
During a session on unity and reconciliation, a one Viateur Mbabariye (50 years) took everybody by surprise when he stood up without warning and said he had something important to say to Philomene Mukamabano, 64.
Mbabariye said he was seeking for forgiveness from elderly Mukamabano for the killing of her husband and children during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, according to local media.
Apparently, during the communal Gacaca court in their area several years ago, Mbabariye did give evidence against other people, but did not reveal his personal involvement.
In his latest confession, Mbabariye narrated of his direct role in the particular interahamwe attack which killed the family of Mukamabano. It is reported that, immediately after the confession, the two hugged and Mukamabano forgave the man who killed her family – leaving her alone.
During her narration, Mukamabano told the AMI session that all along she had been keeping that information because she personally saw Mbabariye during the attack in 1994. All these years, they would bump into each other regularly to which Mbabariye reacted with guilty but they never talked.
Mbabariye also said whenever he met Mukamabano, he felt guilty and pain eating him up from the inside, but had not gathered the courage to speak to her. Mbabariye suspected that if he revealed his identity to her, she could hand him to the authorities to be jailed.
It remains unclear at this point as to whether his confession will be taken up by the authorities, or since he has sought for forgiveness and granted, that will be the end.
For past 15 years, government has been encouraging genocide convicts in jail to seek for forgiveness from families of victims and survivors. There is even a special project called ‘Prison Fellowship’ that operates in all jails, whose mission has been to convince the genocide convicts to engage the survivors.
However, as part of seeking forgiveness, the genocide convicts are also required to pinpoint locations of mass graves.
In one jail alone, the Mageragere prison in Kigali, genocide convicts have named 126 locations they say have mass graves in which victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi were buried.
At the same time as a forgiveness campaign has been conducted by government with some religious groups, the Catholic Church has been pushing for a different project; demanding that elderly and sick convicts are freed.
In a controversial 5-page “episcopal letter” sent in April last year, the Catholic Church also addressed various issues including the welfare of genocide survivors, which they say they are concerned about.
Data available shows that between 2003-2007, a total of 60,280 prisoners benefited from presidential pardon. Nearly all were genocide convicts, freed as part of efforts to support the reconciliation process and reduce prison overcrowding.
The data also shows that the element of age and ill health contributed heavily to the selection process of who was to be on the list.
Then on September 15, 2018, another 2,140 were given presidential clemency.
More are scheduled released in the next two years.