25 years after Rwanda genocide, survivors forgive killers

Mbyo (Rwanda): Twenty-five years ago, Tasian Nkundiye murdered his neighbour with a machete. The 43-year-old Hutu and a few other men from his Rwandan village chopped the Tutsi man to pieces — one horrific slaying during a 100-day genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and the Hutus who tried to protect them.

Nkundiye was convicted of the killing and other crimes and spent eight years in prison. Today he lives nearby the widow of the man he killed. And somehow they are friends — their children and grandchildren play and share lunch together, their cows graze in the same field.  “I am very grateful to her,” Nkundiye, now 68, said of the widow, 58-year-old Laurencia Mukalemera.

“Ever since I apologized to her after prison life, confessing to my crimes and asking her for forgiveness, she has accepted me. I even leave my children with her when I am away.” A quarter century after the 1994 genocide that killed 75 per cent of the country’s ethnic Tutsis, Rwanda has six “reconciliation villages” like Mbyo, where genocide survivors and perpetrators live alongside each other. Convicted killers re-integrate into society by publicly apologising for their crimes.

Survivors profess forgiveness. The villages are showpieces of President Paul Kagame’s policy of ethnic reconciliation, although some critics say the communities are forced and the reconciliation is artificial. About 3,000 victims and perpetrators live in the villages established by Prison Fellowship Rwanda, a Christian organisation, and funded by the US government, the United Nations and other donors to promote healing in Rwanda from the gaping wounds left by the genocide.

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