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Rwandan Woman Forgives Man Who Killed Her Baby During Genocide

Emmanuel Ndayisaba, left, cut off with a machete the hand of Alice Mukarurinda, right, in the swamp where she was hiding and killed her baby girl during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Ben Curtis / AP

She lost her baby daughter and her right hand to a manic killing spree. He wielded the machete that took both.

Yet today, despite coming from opposite sides of an unspeakable shared past, Alice Mukarurinda and Emmanuel Ndayisaba are friends. She is the treasurer and he the vice president of a group that builds simple brick houses for genocide survivors.

"Whenever I look at my arm I remember what happened," said Alice, a mother of five with a deep scar on her left temple where Emanuel sliced her with a machete. As she speaks, Emmanuel — the man who killed her baby — sits close enough that his left hand and her right stump sometimes touch.

Image:
Emmanuel Ndayisaba, left, cut off with a machete the hand of Alice Mukarurinda, right, in the swamp where she was hiding and killed her baby girl during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Ben Curtis / AP

In the months after the genocide, guilt gnawed away at Emmanuel. He saw his victims during nightmares. In 1996, he turned himself in and confessed.

Their story of ethnic violence, extreme guilt and, to some degree, reconciliation is the story of Rwanda today, 20 years after its Hutu majority killed more than 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwandan government is still accused by human rights groups of holding an iron grip on power, stifling dissent and killing political opponents. But even critics give President Paul Kagame credit for leading the country toward a peace that seemed all but impossible two decades ago.

His prison term lasted from 1997 until 2003, when Kagame pardoned Hutus who admitted their guilt. After he was freed, he began asking family members of his victims for forgiveness. He joined a group of genocide killers and survivors called Ukurrkuganze, who still meet weekly.

It was there that he saw Alice, the woman he thought he had killed.

At first he avoided her. Eventually he kneeled before her and asked for forgiveness. After two weeks of thought and long discussions with her husband, she said yes.

"We had attended workshops and trainings and our hearts were kind of free, and I found it easy to forgive," she says. "The Bible says you should forgive and you will also be forgiven."

Although Rwanda has made significant progress since the genocide, ethnic tensions remain. Alice worries that some genocide planners were never caught, and that messages denying the genocide still filter into the country from Hutus living abroad. She believes remembrance is important to ensure that another genocide never happens.

— Associated Press