Laurenciene Mukaremera, 56, is a widow who survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi with her two daughters. Her husband “went missing” the night Interahamwe militias begun a ‘wild-like hunt’ for the Tutsi in her locality in Mayange Sector, Bugesera District.
Little did Mukaremera’s family know that her husband had been murdered on that fateful night.
About 10 years later, it was found that Thacien Nkundiye, 60, a family friend and a close confidant of Mukaremera’s family, had plotted the slaughter of his ‘close friend’.
“I was involved in the attack that killed Felicien Murindabigwi, the husband of Laurenciene Mukaremera, among many other people that we killed on that day; you would say, I was one of the killers too during the Genocide against the Tutsi,” Nkundiye told The New Times, in an interview.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi claimed over one million lives in a span of 100 days. Nkundiye is among the over 800,000 perpetrators who committed the crime against Tutsi during the Genocide.
“We went and destroyed houses; removed the roof of Murindabigwi’s house and took it. We killed six people from his family. It was such a big gang, you can’t precisely say we were twenty or more; it was an entire village crew, we could go hunting Tutsi, as far as in farms. It’s as if we were hunting animals.
“The Genocide was stimulated by hate and jealous. Hutus were considered poor and yet Tutsi had cows, their (Tutsi) houses had modern roofs for us we lived in grass-thatched houses and our dress code was shorts; Once you saw someone wearing trousers, you definitely judged they were Tusti and think, ‘maybe if I kill them, I could take their cows, their houses and their clothes.
“We had such thoughts, mixed up with the history we learnt in school and our parents, who would say that Tutsi colonized Hutu while we were listening. It got instilled in us that Tutsi were our enemies indeed,” Nkudiye narrates.
Murindabigwi was killed and buried in a trench near the family home.
“My husband walked out from home and from that time, we never saw him again. After a few days, I started to think he had been killed and I would be the next to die,” Mukaremera says.
Mukaremera fled the country during the Genocide to Burundi, and returned after the Genocide.
“You see, culturally, when someone dies they are given descent sendoff, unfortunately we were not able to offer a decent sendoff to his (Murindabigwi) body,” she talks of her husband.
After the Genocide, Nkundiye, just like many other genocide perpetrators, was arrested and taken to jail, where he spent 8 years and was later released, under the Presidential Pardon — the initiative that was extended to Genocide convicts who admitted their role in genocide and asked for forgiveness.
Nkundiye returned to his village in 2003, and was later reunited with the family of late Murindabigwi.
“When she returned to the village, I visited her family in 2005, and confessed what I did and asked her for forgiveness,” Nkudiye says.
At first, Mukaremera found forgiveness rather a challenge; it felt as if he never deserved mercy at all. I was angry. I was so upset; I could not imagine someone who killed my beloved coming to me to seek forgiveness.
Moreover someone I considered a family friend?
“But due to Nkundiye’s confession, I was also able to find a place where my husband’s body was dumped and consequently accorded my husband a decent burial. It was from the confession that I got the courage to forgive him,” she says.
Murindabigwi’s remains are among other Genocide victims that are buried at Gashora Genocide memorial site.
Over the years, some of the perpetrators have reconciled with bereaved families and have since been reintegrated back in their villages living side-by-side with the Survivors.
“He told me everything without lies and explained that he did it under the influence of bad leadership. Then I realized that I had to forgive, who knows I might need mercies someday,” Mukaremera adds.
Mukaremera and Nkundiye, are few of the genocide survivors and perpetrators who are living side by side in Rwanda. In fact, the two live in the area commonly known as Reconciliation village about 55 Kilometers away from Kigali, where 36 families, including both Genocide perpetrators and survivors live.
In a recent interview with The New Times, Bishop John Rucyahana, the Chairperson of Unity and Reconciliation Commission, said that, there are individuals who are still traumatised and have struggled to completely recover from the deep wounds caused by the Genocide.
He said total healing and reconciliation takes a long while.
“We’re dealing with human emotions. We’re dealing with human loss. We’re dealing with the extermination of the families
“By any means unity and reconciliation are our choice as Rwandans and we have to achieve it. It will take time, but we will achieve it,” Rucyahana said.
But for Mukaremera and majority of Rwandans, forgiveness and reconciliation was not simply a, “ responsibility but rather a way to realise total healing against trauma and grief of my deceased husband,” she says.
Nkundiye and Mukaremera, currently work together and help each other in all chores regardless of their past.
“We forgot it all and it feels good to forgive and move on. It gives you peace of mind,” Mukaremera says.
On the other hand, Nkundiye, says that, “I do my best to fill the gap of her deceased husband; in whatever she will need, I am willing to help as much as I can – let it be money for school fees of her child or money to buy food.
We help each other in the farm too. The same applies to her, when she has the money she will help me to solve my problem. That kind life strengthens us and our relationship too.”