Photo Caption: Professor Serban Ionescu, a professional psychiatrist and clinical psychologist, making his presentation
Never Again Rwanda (NAR)in partnership with Interpeace- with the support of the Embassy of Sweden in Rwanda - organized a two day international conference on healing and social cohesion that took place in Kigali last week. Hosted under the theme “Understanding Reconciliation Experiences in Post-Genocide and Extreme Violence Societies”, the conference brought together local and international scholars, researchers, practitioners and policy makers in the field of healing and reconciliation. International participants included practitioners from Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Somalia among others.
Speaking while opening the conference, FideleNdayisaba, the Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC),said that the government of Rwanda has strategically introduced unity and reconciliation initiatives at different levels focusing on promoting the spirit of identity which had been socially destroyed.
“In healing physical and psychological wounds as well as inter-personal relationships, it is good to focus on truth telling, forgiveness and commemoration with the aim of making ‘never again’ the reality” Ndayisaba said.`
“Let me reiterate that we should aim for never again and zero tolerance for genocide ideology be it in the name of political space or freedom of expression” he said adding that whoever or whatever attacks unity and reconciliation of any society has to be detected rapidly and punished legally.
Speaking to the media, Ndayisaba said that in order to heal psychological wounds, the society needs to fully understand and support the traumatized individuals inthe circumstances they live in.
“It has beenobserved that trauma cases increase during the commemorationperiod, but indeed people always live with trauma.This is the reason why people should stay close to the most disturbed people” he explained.
Her Excellency Jenny Ohlsson, Ambassador -Designate of Sweden to Rwanda commended the ruling of genocide cases in Rwanda, especially throughGacaca courts, but added that the process of post genocide reconciliation cannot be limited to the provision of justice.
She said that studies have demonstrated particular long-term consequences from mass organized war and genocide on mental health and social conditions.
“Trauma has dramatic influences on communities for example when it becames prevalent it can cause the society to lose the sense of trust,get out control andlead to human rights violation.” She explained.
Jean Paul Mugiraneza, theInterpeace Regional Director said that healing and stabilizing a person who has suffered for a longtime is a difficult task that takes a long period to accomplish.
“It is easy to renovate certain infrastructures, but it is difficult restore a broken heart. It is a process that requires strategic measures to enable someone to feel free to share their own problems and pains to you” Mugiraneza said.
He said that good leadership and platforms that sensitize people to visualize the good trend would be a good solution to heal.
“That is also the purpose of this conference. To share practices used by different countries in building post-conflicts societies although we could each have different experiences” he added.
Dr. Jean Bosco Butera, Patron of Never Again Rwanda said that NAR and Interpeace organized the conference in the context of their joint societal healing programme that aims to create safe spaces to enable youth and community members from diverse backgrounds to share their traumatic past, discuss their grievances and support each other in the healing process through dialogue.
“Across the world, studies have shown that consequences of extreme violence, genocide, crimes against humanity and other gross violations of human rights leave marks for life- often long after the physical wounds have gone, and need to be well addressed to avoid eliciting future violence. Consolidation of peace, world stability and development goes towards healing as a continuous sharing and caring process” Butera explained.
He said that bringing together the conference was in the spirit of working together. “Indeed I am convinced that we are all eager to learn and exchange about the practices of healing and restoration of social fabric after extreme violence in various parts of the world and learn how this can inform and enrich our work in our respective contexts” he said.
At the close of the conference, the Executive Secretary for the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), Dr. Jean-Damascene Bizimana thanked Never Again Rwanda and all partners for implementing aprogramme that aims at helping the Rwandan community and population to overcome trauma resulting from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis through social cohesion groups.
“The work of never again Rwanda is very important to support the genocide survivors and perpetrators to agree on the past and then agree on the future that is sweeter” he said
“I would like again to thank Never Again Rwanda and Interpeace for having organized this international conference with the theme that is in line with the mandate of CNLG.This will help the process of healing in Rwanda. I took lot of the recommendations to the healing process and the commission is committed to working with all the partners to the heal hearts and the nation for this generation and others to come” he noted.
The Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer of 2015 revealed that 4.6% of respondents said that post-genocide wounds have not healed fully, which is a key challenge to reconciliation process.
The research carried out in Rwanda on mental and physical health 18 years after the genocide against the Tutsi suggests that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in the general Rwandan population stood at 26.1% and depression at 54%.
Never Again Rwanda is a peace building and social justice organization that was established in 2002 in response to the 1994 genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis. Guided by a vision of a nation where citizens are agents of positive change and work together towards sustainable peace and development, NAR aims to empower Rwandans with opportunities to become active citizens through peacebuilding and development.
In partnership with Interpeace, NAR is implementing a four-year program on Societal Healing and participatory Governance that is funded by the government of Sweden to supplement Rwanda’s initiatives contributing towards the peace and reconciliation process.