On Monday, April 2, Boniface Hakizimana – a Genocide convict, knelt down on the altar at a chapel in Huye district, Southern Rwanda.
With immense shame on his face, but seemingly heart-broken, Hakizimana 50, looked up and said words that left many in tatters.
“From the deepest part of my heart, I kneel down here before you to apologise. I deeply apologise to the families of countless people I killed,” he said in a half- sobbing voice.
He continued: “I am deeply so sorry for those who lost their relatives in Rugango and Sovu. I played a very big role in their killing.”
Hakizimana confessed that he killed several Tutsi in Sovu and Rugango using a nail-spiked club, he confessed.
Before getting off the altar, Hakizimana had one last apology – to his family.
“I also want to apologize to my children and wife. I have made them become a family of ‘a serial killer. Please forgive me,” he said.
Hakizimana was among sixteen Genocide convicts brought to their home village to meet with families of the victims to confess and apologise. The victims’ families were also ready to forgive them.
At a reconciliation event organized by Fr. Jean Pierre Bakurirehe of Rugango parish in Huye district, one Mukangamije, a family member whose relatives were killed by Hakizimana said:
“It was hard to see that (Hakizimana) open up to apologise to me. My forgiveness also came from very far. I couldn’t believe a person who killed my relatives would come out with a broken-heart,” she said.
Hakizimana is among the 60 Genocide convicts who apologized to the victims’ family members in the area.
As Rwanda enters the 24th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, KT Press reviewed some of the cases where genocide convicts apologized to families of the victims and have been given mercy.
Different organisations, associations and individuals have organized such events in which Genocide perpetrators write to the families of the victims they killed and ask for forgiveness.
But how many have done so 24 years after the Genocide against Tutsi in 1994?
Prisons Fellowship Rwanda, a faith based non-profit organization working in partnership with government agencies, has been conducting a similar exercise since 2003.
Through the organization, more than 6,000 prisoners out of 28,800 Genocide perpetrators in prisons across the country have written confessions letters, confessing every aspect of their crimes and expressing the need to ask for forgiveness from their victims vis-a-vis.
According to officials at the organization, the need to ask forgiveness also extended to the perpetrators own families.
To deal with such an overwhelming number of perpetrators and victims, social cohesion and trust are very important pillars of the process.
Since 2015, Prison Fellowship Rwanda brought more than 1,200 victims and offenders together for forgiveness and repentance and reconciliation.
On Thursday 29th, the organization transported 22 Genocide convicts from Nsinda prison in Rwamagana district, Eastern Province, to their scene of crime in Gatsibo district.
It was the first time the prisoners had gone back where they committed crimes to ask for forgiveness from 36 families whose parents, children and friends they killed.
The convicts pilled their hearts in front the audience. The same audience they had lied years back claiming that Gacaca traditional courts wrongly.
According to Dr. Peter Kalimba from prisons fellowship, “wherever Prison Fellowship Rwanda have been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, prisoners were touched by the message, and today we have received more letters from the prisoners willing to ask for forgiveness from the families of victims. So far we have received 6,000 letters,” he said.
Nsinda prison is home to 13,000 prisoners of which 7,000 prisoners are convicted of Genocide related crimes.
To mobilise Genocide convicts to ask forgiveness, the organisation has established thirteen clubs in prisons since 2002, with more than three hundred clubs in the community – to boost social-economic interactions among Genocide victims, offenders and their families.
The organisation has also built eight reconciliation villages across the country which comprise of clusters of homes built for Genocide offenders and victims.
According to Dr. Kalimba, members of these reconciliation villages have chosen to step beyond forgiveness and embrace reconciliation.
“They have committed to living together, working together, and caring for one another,” he said adding that over 800 houses were constructed in eight villages for both Genocide survivors and offenders in four districts of the country.
To succeed in their reconciliation programs, the organization uses different approaches to restore hope, heal the wounds of the past and build social cohesion.
“Group-individual therapy” is one of the approaches introduced by the organisation in prisons and communities.
The approach helps people in a group format, whereby group members are given an opportunity to help their companions to overcome problems, as well as solve their own.
“Since 2013 a total of 35,425 people have been impacted by the program,” Dr. Kalimba told KT Press.
He added that the group is used as a healing medium to establish trust and confidence in one another and open environments for discussion and peer-support structures.
“The groups are becoming restorative circles, and are growing in the ability to work for their mutual socio-economic advancement,” Dr. Kalimba said.
Former Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), once told KT Press that the commission is aware of these initiatives to help bring reconciliation to another level.
“All these associations are our primary partners. We work closely with them,” he said then.
The commission does advocacy for them and facilitates them to acquire funds to run these associations. Another support is providing them with hands-on-skills that help them set business projects.