The genocide in Rawanda that took place 20 years ago is one of the worst displays of ethnic hatred in modern times. Nearly a million people were killed.
How does a country heal from that?
One person at a time.
There is a continuing national effort at reconciliation. As part of that, the Association Modeste et Innocent, a nonprofit organization, counsels small groups of Hutus and Tutsis over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted by the survivor, the perpetrator and his family and friends typically bring a basket of offerings, usually food and sorghum or banana beer. The accord is sealed with song and dance.
Photographer Pieter Hugo took photos of some of the pairs of perpetrators who had asked for forgiveness and their victims who granted it. The portraits, some of them published in the New York Times, and the comments are stunning.
From the Times:
In interviews conducted by AMI and Creative Court for the project, the subjects spoke of the pardoning process as an important step toward improving their lives. “These people can’t go anywhere else — they have to make peace,” Hugo explained. “Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.” Yet the practical necessity of reconciliation does not detract from the emotional strength required of these Rwandans to forge it — or to be photographed, for that matter, side by side.
Laurent Nsabimana Perpetrator (right) Beatrice Mukarwambari Survivor Nsabimana: “I participated in destroying her house because we took the owner for dead. The houses that remained without owners — we thought it was better to destroy them in order to get firewood. Her forgiveness proved to me that she is a person with a pure heart.”
Mukarwambari: “If I am not stubborn, life moves forward. When someone comes close to you without hatred, although horrible things happened, you welcome him and grant what he is looking for from you. Forgiveness equals mercy.”