Rwandan genocide victim learns to forgive, befriends man who cut off her hand

Rwanda reconciliation
Alice Mukarurinda (R) eats kernels of roasted corn given to her by Baroshiman Canisius (L) in Nyamata, Rwanda on Feb. 18, 2019. Canisius is one of the perpetrators that asked Mukarurinda for forgiveness following the Rwandan genocide in 1994. |

If I don’t forgive, I won’t inherit the Kingdom of God

Having been saved at the age of 15, Alice knew that one of the key principles of her faith is forgiveness. When she returned home, she read the Bible. She read about forgiveness and how God is merciful to “those who didn’t deserve it.”

She said that she feared that if she didn’t forgive like God forgave her of her sins, then she would not inherit the Kingdom of God when her time comes.

Alice recited the words of Matthew 3 in the native Bantu language of Kinyarwanda.

“You are blessed when you are at the end of your rope. When there is less of you, there is more of God and His rule. You are blessed when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you,” she was quoted as saying through the translator.

“The Bible talks about poverty as not those who don't have [things] to wear, [things] to eat, and [things] to drink but those who cannot forgive.” 

Today, Alice is 48 and has five children that she says God blessed her with. But she has also come to terms with what happened and is part of a local association of 30 genocide victims and perpetrators who have asked for forgiveness and have worked to construct 180 homes to replace ones destroyed by the violence. The association constructed 30 other houses that are complete except for the fact that they are waiting for roofing.

Following the genocide, Alice said she prayed for God to present the man who carried out the crimes against her and her family. But when the time came and one of the attackers who chopped off her hand came to her house to ask for forgiveness, she fainted.

Why? Because Alice had already developed a relationship with that same man, Emmanuel, working through the local reconciliation organization Ukuri Kuganze (Let the Truth Reveal) but she didn't know the whole time that it was he who cut off her hand and that it was his colleagues that murdered her daughter.

"[I] couldn't believe that this was the person that [I] was working with in so many areas. It just all got black," Alice recalled. "I fainted and they took me to the hospital."

Her husband was upset to find out that she was working to rebuild homes with the same man who carried out such a horrific act against their family.

"It was difficult for [my husband] to understand that in our midst was someone that killed their baby," she said. "Because we were saved and because we knew God, we made that decision within that week to forgive him because it is what we were called to do. Before that, I hadn't spoken to him and I didn't know what to say to him. My husband kept reminding me that God was with us everywhere we went and that is what made us forgive him."

"I went back to the place where we were building, the house they were constructing was one that World Vision had supported the construction,” she added. “I found him at the top of the structure and I asked him to come down and told him that I forgive him. It was all fine in my heart. I felt [the feeling] of healing and peace."

She encouraged Emmanuel to go to her other family members and ask for their forgiveness.

"My family had forgiven him except the small children," she said. "[They] asked him many questions; now they also have forgiven him."

Alice said that it helped that her family had already decided to forgive the perpetrators before even knowing who committed the crimes.

"Because of our Christian faith, we started the process of forgiving before we knew who did it," she said. "I see the Hutu as one. I put them all together. I started off by forgiving all the Hutu."

According to Alice, there is no longer blood on Emmanuel's hands.

"We all forgive him and we live together peacefully," she said. "He visits me. I visit him. No problems."

Emmanuel was let out of prison in 2003 after the government mass-released many genocide perpetrators and innocent Hutus rounded up and jailed by authorities without trial after the rise to power of the RPF. The RPF still controls the country under the leadership of popular President Paul Kagame, who took office in 2000. 

The perpetrators were let out of jail so that they could help rebuild the torn nation. The release allowed many of them to be tried in local Gacaca courts where community members could accuse perpetrators who them saw carry out the crimes.

As the secretary of her local Gacaca court, Alice was still inclined to report Emmanuel to have him tried for his crimes against her family. However, she pleaded with other members of the community court to have leniency on Emmanuel. She also asked other court members to forgive Emmanuel. Instead of going to prison, Emmanuel was ordered to do public works to help rebuild society.

"If it were not for the Gacaca court, Emmanuel would still be in prison," Alice said. "The Gacaca [sped] up the process. He was involved in the work that they were giving people who asked for forgiveness. Instead of taking them back to jail, they could do public works like constructing the roads, supporting [the victims]."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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