There are three things the government of Rwanda proudly mentions as the elements that have influenced most decisions that have shaped the country after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi: unity, thinking big and being accountable.
However, each one of the above has needed tremendous sacrifices at both national and individual levels; even deep in small villages like Rwankuba, Gatsibo District in the Eastern Province.
Epimaque Mutabaruka 59, is a father of five. He is the only survivor among his extended family. His grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews were all massacred in 1994 by former neighbours who had joined the Interahamwe militia.
Interahamwe and former government soldiers (ex-FAR) spearheaded the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Mutabaruka says he has so far forgiven 50 individuals who had a hand in the killing of his family, an act which the Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), Fidele Ndayisaba, hails as brave.
“Such people are many in our country and have made great contributions toward reconciliation” said Ndayisaba.
Rwankuba is the birth place of one of the most notorious and deadliest Genocide executer, Jean Baptiste Gatete, who was responsible for the killing of more than 25,000 Tutsi in former Murambi Commune where he was the mayor.
In March 2011, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, sentenced him to 40 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity.
But the people he used as tools sought forgiveness from survivors whose relatives they massacred mercilessly.
Forgiving for the sake of country
According to NURC, Genocide survivors and perpetrators reconcile through apology and forgiveness followed by compensation.
But some survivors like Mutabaruka have gone to the extent of foregoing compensation from those who killed his family.
“If I make them sell off the little they have to pay back what they looted, I will be destabilising my country, which is the only greatest wealth I can ever have” he said.
Ndayisaba commends such a forgiving spirit.
“If a Genocide perpetrator has no capacity to compensate what they looted or destroyed, the family of the perpetrator can help their family member to work and pay whatever they owe,” he noted.
The only exception is: “When the perpetrator has no capacity or any other alternative to compensate, and the Genocide survivor is willing to forgive, we highly welcome it too” he said.
Mutabaruka says that when he saw those who killed his family come to him to ask for forgiveness, he forgave them right away. He says his goal was not to get all his property back, but to have equal dignity and rights in his country.
Ndorishyerezo, a woman who participated in the killing of Tutsi families in Rwankuba and other places in the then Murambi commune, asked why she killed people, she said: “I was deceived”.
The district mayor, Richard Gasana, said that was an indication of “the evil hand of a government that divided its people and incited one section to destroy the other”.
Why compensation of property is necessary
Ndayisaba says it was important for a perpetrator to compensate the property they looted (or destroyed) from a survivor.
“Take an example of a usual debt between people who may even be relatives, or friends. When one refuses to pay what they owe the other, the whole relationship is at stake,” said Ndayisaba.
He added that compensation of property was an outward indication of the sincerity of the apology.
“It is a sign of accepting the truth at an interpersonal level between perpetrator and victim,” said Ndayisaba.