Rwandan Youth Engage Genocide Perpetrators on Path to Reconciliation
When 24-year-old Rwandan youth leader John Bosco Gakwenza first approached his fellow members of Ingenzi youth group about organizing reconciliation dialogues with perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, their reaction was lukewarm.
Many Ingenzi members lost their parents during the genocide and were skeptical about engaging in dialogue with Tigistes – genocide perpetrators who were completing their sentences by performing community service. Although John Bosco does not know who killed his parents, he remains determined to help Rwanda move forward and convinced his peers to engage confessed perpetrators in dialogue as a first step toward genuine reconciliation. Responding to Tigistes who expressed doubts about reconciliation, John Bosco pointed out that “some of you could have killed my family, but the fact that I am here with you should be an indicator that reconciliation is possible…and necessary for the future of our country.”
John Bosco is one of 97 youth leaders who participated in an intensive leadership training program as part of the Youth for Change: Building Peace in Rwandan Communities Program (Y4C). Following the training, youth leaders applied their newly-acquired knowledge and skills to develop proposals for peacebuilding projects in collaboration with their youth groups and community members. Under John Bosco’s leadership, the 700 member Ingenzi was one of 29 youth groups that received funding. Ingenzi organized two reconciliation events that engaged more than 250 participants – including genocide perpetrators and their families. The group received national recognition as a result of these events, including coverage on the national television station TVR and a performance during the Rwanda’s International Peace Day celebrations at the invitation of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC).
The reconciliation events organized by Ingenzi took place at correctional facilities and included performances followed by dialogue with Tigistes. In one performance, 22-year-old Delphine Ufitinema – whose parents were killed during the genocide when she was only five – plays the mother of a young woman who survived the genocide and has fallen in love with the son of a freed genocide perpetrator. She opposes the marriage as do the parents of the young man. The lovers arrange for their families to reconcile before they start preparing for the wedding.
Following the performances by Ingenzi members, Tigistes shared their thoughts. Tigiste Anastase Habyarimana expressed remorse about his role in the genocide and encouraged the youth group to engage perpetrators who have completed their sentences, as well as the families of those still in prison. “I am scared about how I shall face people I offended, because what I did was unforgivable,” he explained. “Your meeting with us gives me hope…. thank God there are people like you [Ingenzi] that still think we deserve a second chance.”
During the first event, Tigistes expressed concern about changing the attitudes of their families toward survivors. For example, Tigiste Nzabarinda Jean Bosco asked the youth leaders to help him sensitize his wife and the wives of his fellow Tigistes – some of whom he explained still blamed the survivors for the imprisonment of their husbands. In response, Ingenzi organized meetings with Tigistes’ families and invited them to join the second reconciliation dialogue.
Based on the success of the events Ingenzi organized, IREX awarded the group additional funding for activities that bring together genocide survivors with perpetrators and their families in order to continue its efforts to promote reconciliation and build a peaceful future for Rwanda.
The Youth for Change: Building Peace in Rwandan Communities Program (Y4C) is funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (USAID/CMM) and implemented by IREX.