Forgiving Atrocities in Rwanda

Featured Community Voice: Norah Bagirinka

Norah Bagirinka is a Rwanda genocide survivor. She worked as a translator on the Emmy Award-winning and Oscar Award-nominated documentary short God Sleeps in Rwanda. She is the founder of Rwandan Women in Action.

Kimberlee Acquaro/ Stacy Sherman
In this excerpt from the award-winning documentary God Sleeps in Rwanda, Joslyne Mujawamariya, elected Head of Development in her village's first democratic elections, is working to rebuild her country that was devastated by civil wars, genocide and poverty.


Kimberlee Acquaro/ Stacy Sherman
The unprecedented opportunity to build democracy in Rwanda lies in the hands of its women and girls. The 1994 genocide has taken the lives of hundreds of thousand of men, making 70 percent of Rwanda's population female. View Larger >
I see myself as a woman who has been given another chance to live. I do not know for how long--whether it is some hours or many years--but I want to make a difference. Someone somewhere is hurting right now and I need to reach that person. And help in any way.

I am a Rwanda genocide survivor. I survived many times, and it wasn't even in my power to survive. I survived by the help of some kind people who were able to understand that I needed to live my life through.

I am not a politician and I do not know very much about politics. But I think that the greed of the people in power and the poverty of the common people might have sparked the genocide.

The people in power wanted to hold onto power and have more and more of it. So they told the common people: "If you kill so-and-so, you can take their property, their women and their land."

They said: "Tutsi people in exile will come back and take your lands and you will be poor and you will be subjected to them. Defend yourself, kill them, even the children, kill them, because they will grow up and revenge back."

Today the situation in Rwanda is different. Today we have democracy, although we still have a way to go. We are still working on bringing about reconciliation and justice.

To establish justice in Rwanda we're using the local system--the Gacaca courts. These courts are local courts that were used many years ago to settle disputes between communities. For example, if somebody killed their neighbor's cow, the entire community would judge that person. In that way, every person could identify what they saw and what they think about the person who committed the action.

Now the same system is used to judge genocide perpetrators. The prisoners are brought to the villages where they allegedly committed genocide and they're trialed there, in the presence of all the survivors.

Everybody in the Gacaca speaks their point of view, every point is accepted and counted and the majority decides. If the majority finds that the person is innocent, they are set free. If they find that the person is guilty, they're taken back to the prison. Today, majority of Gacaca members are women.

You see, woman in Rwanda are really making a difference and you can see that inGod Sleeps in Rwanda. After the genocide, women came to comprise 70 percent of the population. Even though they didn't have proper experience--some 49 percent of women were illiterate--they started from grassroots levels and are bringing about change.

Most important of all, women are inspiring reconciliation and the necessary process of forgiving. Women on both sides have taken a stand to forgive and continue living.

Women are making reconciliation possible in their own way. For instance, Rwandan villages are not separate; all of us, Hutus and Tutsis alike, live together. Because so many people have died, most people do not have extended families. So what do I do when I need to go to the hospital and I don't have a baby-sitter? If I need help or a friend to talk to, where do I go? I must go to my neighbor, I must forgive and we must come to a compromise.

Rwandan women are also publicly calling for reconciliation. Two women I consider my role models are the First Lady Janette Kagame and Immaculate Ilibagiza. The First Lady works hard to be very fair and has contributed so much by initiating programs to help women and children. Ilibagaza is also a genocide survivor, and although she has gone through a lot, and her entire family was killed, she was still able to publicly forgive and is working toward reconciliation.

Women's ability to forgive and rebuild life reminds me of a proverb I heard one bishop say: "When you teach a man, you teach an individual. When you teach a woman, you teach a nation."

In my opinion, this saying applies to Rwanda because Rwandan women are good story-tellers. They teach their children and each other by telling stories. For example, when a woman experiences something good, she returns home, gathers her family and shares her story and educates her children. That same woman then meets other women and shares her tale.

Today, through our stories, we're teaching our children that they need to be better citizens. We want them to grow up and bring about change and learn from our past which wasn't good. We want them to use our experiences and be better human beings and we want them to share their knowledge with the world.

Donate Online »

Explore By Topic