his year marks 25 years since the Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of more than 800,000 people. Ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were brutally killed – often by their own neighbours – and thousands of women faced sexual violence. A quarter of a century later, the journey of healing and reconciliation continues in this East African nation.
The work of justice makes demands on our hearts, minds and bodies – we enter into difficult places of great suffering and loss. In “Jesus is the Justice of God” (see page 4), Jonathan Wilson helps us to focus on what it means to follow Jesus into a broken world. Our response offers a brief reflection on justice, reconciliation and peace in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.
GORDON: In May 2014, members of the Rwandan community and their friends gathered in a church in Winnipeg to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide. After two decades of silence, Faustin* told his story publicly for the first time. The killings started in Kigali on the evening of May 6, 1994. He had walked home in the shadows attempting to avoid roadblocks and gangs of killers. Arriving after midnight, he discovered the dead bodies of his family. He worked through the night to bury them in the garden. Then, he prepared himself to die at the hands of his neighbours in the morning.
I have often wondered what justice means for people like Faustin. Can anything compensate for the grief and suffering that have marked their lives?
GATO: Faustin is simply one example. The world in which we are living in today is full of violence. People are injured or killed, women suffer sexual abuse, children are afraid of becoming orphans and property is destroyed. Violence is a painful reality for millions of people in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
In these situations, victims hope for some form of legal justice. We understand their prayer for a God who judges on the earth and punishes the perpetrators of violence (Psalm 58). Yet justice seems far away. Even when police and the courts act on behalf of the victims, the offenders may minimize or deny their actions. They may plot revenge against their accusers. Victims of violence seldom feel secure about the future. This reality has been our experience in Rwanda as survivors, perpetrators and bystanders are challenged to rebuild their lives.
What does justice mean in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region? How can Christians work so that all parties find hope for a shared future based on justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23)?
GORDON: I would like to submit a few points about justice:
1. The theme of justice in the Christian faith means that individuals are accountable – before God and the community – for their actions and the impact of their deeds (and their silence).
2. Justice requires a commitment to truth, humility and confession. These virtues are important because each of us is guilty of evil motivations and destructive actions.
3. Actions that expose evil and injustice are controversial, as shown in the biblical prophets and the gospel traditions. Discourse about justice is perceived by some people as a threat to social stability because it casts light on specific times, locations, actors and actions.
4. There is a distinction between punitive justice and restorative justice. The former attempts to inflict a punishment commensurate with the severity of the injustice that has been committed. The latter has the goal of confession, restitution, forgiveness and reconciliation. We think of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 as an example of restorative justice.
5. Forgiveness after mass violence does not mean forgetting. But it does mean remembering in a new way based on faith that God’s new creation begins in the wounded places of this world.
Justice after a genocide is important but limited in scope. In Rwanda, the community courts (Gacaca) and annual genocide commemoration events have ensured that the victims’ stories are not forgotten by the community, there is acknowledgement of evil, and some form of retribution or restitution is enacted. Forgiveness and reconciliation move beyond justice as an anticipation of the new creation when we will live together in God’s presence and he will wipe every tear from our eyes.
GATO: There have been four parts to our work for justice, forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region.
- Confrontation: The parties meet with each other in order to listen and speak about the injustices inflicted on the victims. Time is taken to examine the root causes behind the violence. Personal accountability and honest confession are important at this stage.
- Redemptive Forgiveness: This is demanding for both parties. The one who forgives is challenged to develop empathy for the offender. Claims for retribution are laid aside and the offender is seen as someone who is not defined only by past actions. The offender ends all attempts of self-justification, makes a truthful confession and humbly receives the gift of redemptive forgiveness.
- Restoration: Grace means that both the victim and the offender willfully intend the well-being of the other. The parties explore what reconciliation means for their lives. They make mutual commitments to build a shared relationship that frees them from the past.
- Restitution: Desmond Tutu wrote that he could forgive someone that confessed to stealing his fountain pen, but he would expect that his pen would be returned. Acts of violent injustice require some form of restitution even when it can never match the losses and harm suffered. When an offender makes efforts to make things right, even partially, it is a way of saying, “I am taking responsibility for my actions and acknowledge the rightful demands of justice.”
This is not theory for me. Let me give just one example. I worked in schools in Rwanda where there was hatred between students and teachers after the genocide against the Tutsi. Survivors feared new outbreaks of violence. Members of the other ethnic group had family members in prison and feared actions of revenge. We worked with peace and reconciliation clubs, peace camps, workshops and choirs composed of members of both groups. By God’s grace, the horrors of the genocide were acknowledged and confessed, forgiveness and healing were experienced and the process of building a new Rwanda was initiated.
GORDON AND GATO: The vision of the new creation offers the image of the wolf and the lamb feeding together in peace and security. Our work for justice, forgiveness, and peace in a broken and wounded world is an anticipation of God’s renewal of creation and salvation.
*Names have been changed.
Gato Munyamasoko is CBM’s Peace and Reconciliation Specialist, serving in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He was awarded the Baptist World Alliance’s Human Rights Award in 2015 and an honorary doctorate from Acadia University in 2016. Gordon King has been a friend and prayer supporter of Gato for many years. He is also the author of several books, including Seed Falling on Good Soil: Rooting Our Lives in the Parables of Jesus. Gordon’s wife, Régine Uwibereyeho King, is a Rwandan genocide survivor. They live in Alberta, where Régine works as an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary.