Rwanda Woman Witnesses Family Massacred; Meets Killer Later and Forgives

From Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza ((Hay House, Inc, 2006
Rwanda is a small African country positioned east of the Cong, south of Uganda, and Tanzania and Burundi on east and southern borders. The author lived with her family in a small village of Mataba which is close to the large lake Lac Kivu which separates Rwanda from the Congo. The Belgians settled in Rwanda as Europeans began to carve out colonies in Africa during the late 1800’s, and they showed favoritism to the Tutsi aristocracy who were actually in a minority. However, when the Tusis clamored for greater independence, the Belgians encouraged the Hutus in 1959 to foment a bloody revolt which overthrew the monarch. More than 100,000 Tutsis were murdered before the Belgians finally pulled out in 1962 to leave a Hutu government firmly in place and in position to take vengeance out on the Tutsis who had been somewhat oblivious to the great tribal split prior to the revolt. In 1994 the Hutu President, Habyaniman, traveled to Tanzania and signed a peace agreement with the Tutsi rebels, but that action for peace triggered an uprising led by Colonel Theoneste Bagosora to engineer a plan that led to the President’s plane being shot out of the sky upon his return to Rwanda. The Hutus then used all the radio stations to urge Hutus everywhere to kill Tutsi citizens—even if they were married to a Hutu. The call was to pursue the Tutsis until every last one of them were killed, and the call aroused the worst emotions in most Hutu neighborhoods who allied with packs of fighters to hunt down every Tutsi they knew.

Immaculee was visiting her parents after leaving her school in Kilgali in fear and then had to flee her parent’s house as Hutu neighbors all around them demonstrated a distinct willingness to slaughter not only her family but the hundreds of other Tutsi who had gathered at their house. She and her brother crept away and ran to Pastor Murinzi’s house with an appeal for protection in that the Pastor was a Hutu toward whom her father had shown considerable kindness throughout the years. The pastor greeted them warmly, then turned rather cold as she expressed her need to stay until her father came to take her to some safe area. There were others in the house and it was obvious they already considered any Tutsi as unfit to live.

The only hope for her came when the Pastor did agree to hide her in his house but he made it appear that she left and only after all his family were asleep did he whisper for her to follow him into a small bathroom where five other Tutsi women who had taken refuge there were also ushered in. That was to be their sole place of refuge for 91 terrifying days. Fortunately, several days later she talked the Pastor into pulling a large dresser in front of the bathroom door and the bathroom itself was in such an odd place that it was seldom used and almost unknown to his neighbors. At least three times while she and the other women were in hiding (they were later joined by two others to make eight in all) she heard neighbors ransacking the Pastor’s house and yelling out they knew he must have Immaculee and others because they had never seen her among the dead. She finally managed a perilous escape when word reached them that French troops were near by with orders to help rescue Tutsis as the Tutsi army led by Paul Kagame entered with enough force to stop the genocide. Her brother, Aimable, and she were the only ones of her family to survive.

Immaculee helped with other Tutsis being protected by French soldiers and through her contacts and some courageous and timely efforts by her later she eventually obtained a good job working for the United Nations in Rwanda. When the country began to heal under rule of Paul Kagame, she was escorted by Colonel Gueye of the U.N. to visit the location of her destroyed home. She then went on to the prison where she was greeted by Semana, the new burgomaster of Kibuye. He was in charge of arresting and detaining the killers who had terrorized that area and had interrogated hundreds of Interahamwe (militia members). He took her in to meet the elader of the gang that killed her mother and sister.

He dragged back a disheveled, limping old man and pushed him down in front of her. The man, Felicien, had been a successful Hutu businessman who had led one of the gangs that searched her neighborhood for Tutsi to kill and who had actually called out her name when his gang came to the Pastor’s home. When Felicien looked up and saw her the color drained from his face. Samana expected her to take out her rage against this heartless man who was now pleading for mercy, but she only said, “I forgive you”.

When Smana asked why she would ever say she forgave him, she answered “Forgiveness is all I have to offer”.