Encounters with conflict and peace

A starting point for hope

The journalist Jean Hatzfeld talked with many survivors and killers. He describes the point that killers need to get to, if there is to be any hope of successful re-integration into the community.
Jean Hatzfeld
“He must also have taken the momentous steps of admitting, however guardedly, to more or less voluntary participation in the massacres, and of agreeing to describe some of his criminal actions. No matter what scheming and trickery he may be up to, that the killer acknowledges involvement is in fact indispensable.

If he denies everything or automatically shifts his responsibility onto another, if he rejects the slightest individual initiative, if he disowns intellectual support for the project and denies any interest or pleasure in carrying it out, we are right back with the litanies recited by all the families on the hills: “It wasn’t me, it was the others.” “I wasn’t there, I didn’t see anything.” “If the Tutsis hadn’t run away, it wouldn’t have happened.” “I didn’t want to, but they made me do it.” “If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have done it worse.” “I had nothing to do with it. The proof is, I have always had Tutsi friends…”

Fear and regret

Rwandan prison, Kigali
After years in prison, most killers realised life could never be the same for them. “My children have scattered far and wide without sending me comforting words,” said Ignace, a farmer. “I no longer own even one basic tool.” I think I will manage for food, but comfort and respect… I can tell already that these are gone for good.”

Like many prisoners, he was understandably very nervous about meeting the relatives of people he had killed. “Sometimes I feel terrified by the look in the eyes of the survivors who wait for me."

Out of fear or genuine remorse - or a combination of both - killers sometimes sent messages of apology to the families of the victims, hoping it would make the return home a little easier.

“I denounced myself and I spoke of my guilt to the families of people I killed,” said Elie. “When I get out, I will take gifts, food and drink; I will offer enough Primus beer and brochettes [skewers of meat] for proper reconciliation gatherings.”

Elie said that, in prison, most people were sorry, but not always for the right reasons. Some of the killers were just sorry for themselves, for the terrible life in prison and for all the things they’d lost. Their main regret was that they didn’t finish the job: “They accuse themselves of negligence rather and wickedness… Repentance may wear many faces. But it’s worthless if it is not the right kind.”

Sorry: you have to bring it home

In rural Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, your locality is often not a town or a suburb - it’s a hill. Your neighbours are people whose little houses and gardens share the same hill as your own.
cultivated hills, Rwanda
Survivors on the hills usually don’t place much value in apologies from a distance - a note from the Congo or a public display of remorse in a church. “Real regrets are said eye to eye, not to statues of God,” said Gaspard, a survivor.

Some killers understand this. “I don’t know if my repentance will be accepted, if I will be spared. But regret is like death: you must bring it back home to your hill.”

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