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Rwanda Project

"Reconciliation in Rwanda After the 1994 Genocide: The Role of the Churches"

A Pilot Project of a Global Mediation and Reconciliation Service©

by The Rev. Erisa Mutabaazi, Joseph Preston Baratta and Virginia Swain

25 February 1999

Overview

A pilot project has been planned in Rwanda in partnership with the UN Anglican Church office to build trust between Tutsis and Hutus in one Episcopal Diocese in Rwanda. Following is the account of our research and consultations leading up to the Rev. Erisa Mutabaazis proposal.

Definitions, Goals and Setting

In his book Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (United States Institute of Peace, 1998), John Paul Lederach says, "In dealing with the challenges posed by contemporary conflict, an important meeting point between realism and innovation is the idea of reconciliation." A fundamental question is how to create a catalyst for
reconciliation and then sustain it in divided societies. He goes on to name three starting points: 1) Relationship building as the focal point for both understanding the whole system and for sustained dialogue within protracted conflict settings, engaging the sides of a conflict with each other; 2) Encounter activities to express grief, loss and the anger that
accompanies injustice; 3) Innovative reconciliation techniques that exist outside the mainstream of international political traditions.

By reconciliation, we mean the process familiar within the Christian tradition (and other religious traditions) of making confession for sin, showing sincere contrition and repentance before God and community, and thereby receiving forgiveness from God, and extending love to others. Persons seeking and granted such reconciliation are said to be
redeemed by God. They are restored to friendship and even loving relations with their brethren.

In terms drawn from international life, reconciliation may be defined as bringing back into harmony or unity a people divided and traumatized by war, genocide, and prolonged abuse of their human rights. It comes from the same root as conciliation. It is a peaceful means for the resolution of disputes, analogous to negotiation, mediation, arbitration, adjudication, and others as listed in Article 33 of the United Nations Charter.

In terms described by Walter Wink, in his book When The Power Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations, "...the churches have a unique role to play in fostering genuine reconciliation between formerly warring parties. The fact that the churches have often failed at this task in no way mitigates the importance of the attempt. The reign of God in human affairs means first and foremost that God has taken the initiative to reconcile us, both to God and to each other. Past complicity with the domination system needs to be acknowledged. Repentance needs to be tendered so that God's forgiveness, already freely given, can be accepted. Old entities must be healed, for unresolved hatreds can lead to acts of revenge by those newly empowered, so that the only system of domination requires an act of social reconciliation, for which South Africa has so far provided a superb example...."

The Global Mediation and Reconciliation Service© (GMRS) offers facilitation services for the people of a post-conflict country to rebuild after war and genocide, believing in the power of in-country wisdom and experience, honoring their inherent conflict resolution abilities. The GMRS process works to provide additional resources as needed and acts as a liaison between all the stakeholders: grassroots groups; the nation state; and the United
Nations Community in an Asking the People Inquiry Process.

The goals of our reconciliation project in Rwanda are to use Lederach's model to build relationships, provide a vehicle for expression of grief and loss with indigenous cultural processes, like the Gacaca; to provide other innovative techniques as a support to the indigenous processes; and to apply Jubilee 2000 to canceling the Rwandan debt. We hope to reopen communication between Hutus and Tutsis, to build community on Christian principles among them, and to create a safe place for trust to grow between all divided classes or groups in the country. It is to encourage and nurture peace and healing within all the Churches in Rwanda, and to ensure that no member of one of the Churches or the society shall be excluded.

We are trying to make a contribution to the winding down of the fears and hatreds and continuing acts of violence left over from the genocide in Rwanda of 1994. We have concluded from our knowledge of human nature and of conditions in Rwanda that the Churches will be essential instruments of reconciliation, since only they can provide the faith, trust, and love necessary for so heartfelt a process. In secular, State institutions outside the Churches, one finds but a desire for justice, and in society where justice seems unavailable, for revenge.

We are encouraged by recent meetings of the bishops of the Catholic and Episcopal (Anglican) Churches, who, we understand, are quietly trying to formulate common approaches to reconciliation. We hope that they will invite the collaboration of Free Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Quaker, and other Protestant leaders. Hence, in this proposal, we prefer the term Churches (plural), since we assume that reconciliation cannot be achieved without all Christians setting the example.

We are mindful that certain Church leaders before and during the genocide were closely connected to the State and supported its directives to kill its enemies, so that today, in the minds of many people in and out of the country, the Churches stand implicated in the genocide. The dead have been left in many sanctuaries (where they were cut down) as witnesses to failure to speak out in opposition to policies so immoral and unchristian. We believe the Churches can yet restore their Christian faith, and we hope that Christianity will come through this crisis with renewed vigor and life, as it has after similar historic challenges. In Europe, the Churches failed to anticipate and resist the Jewish Holocaust, but they have since been strengthened by confrontation with their own sin. The Synagogues have met their own challenges. God is our help.

We are also encouraged by news of a new bill introduced in the Transitional National Assembly on Unity and Reconciliation. We suppose that it is designed to complement the Organic Law of 1996, which provides for reduced punitive sentences for lesser categories of those accused of genocide and crimes against humanity who confess their crimes. Few have taken advantage of the law, but recent confessions before the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha seem to have encouraged prisoners in the Rwandan judicial system to confess. We support the rule of law. Yet we think that the Churches will still have a great role to play in completing the process of reconciliation. Even after punishment of the perpetrators, the pain of loss and betrayal in victims and survivors will still need to be dispelled. Failure to do so will water the seeds of future atrocities.

We are aware that participation of Westerners in talk of reconciliation will be perceived by some people in Rwanda as hypocritical or intrusive. Where was the United Nations in April-July 1994? What lasting benefits has the international community brought to Rwanda, or Africa for that matter? We simply reply that many people in the West have visited Rwanda, speak Kindarwanda, are friendly, and mean to help; perhaps most of us do, even in the U.N. or transnational corporations, if we but knew what rightly to do, which we are slowly learning. The principal author of this proposal, Rev. Mutabaazi, has invited a large circle of concerned people during his ministerial studies in Massachusetts to study
the history of the genocide in Rwanda and to offer assistance, and they have responded eagerly, in a compassionate spirit. Sometimes third parties can offer perspective and help where it is least expected. If the people of Rwanda are now weary and have lost the assurance of knowing where to turn, perhaps they will consider our suggestions. We have tried to help. Church members, too, in other countries may respond to appeals.

The history of Rwanda has often been before us. Our proposal is conceived as an effort over the long term to undo the heritage of Belgian colonialism, which favored Tutsis as an aristocratic ruling class and treated Hutus as a subordinated majority, instituting identity cards in 1933 to distinguish between them. It aims as well as to undo the heritage of the Hutu majority government from 1959 to 1994, which drove the Tutsis into exile and eventually could find no other way of governing a minority than trying to exterminate them. Our goal must be to build State and Churches that have established institutions to govern a diverse population fairly and peacefully, just as have States and Churches in the West, which also passed through a stage of tyranny of the majority. Everybody belongs to some minority; the ultimate minority is the individual, whose rights under modern democratic polities must always be protected.

It is often said that reconciliation is premature. Rwanda is still bleeding, tens of thousands are in prison, leaders of the former government are still in refugee camps or in exile planning to return to the country and complete the genocide. We think there will never be a better right time. Reconciliation is a very long process that begins with the first peace talks and continues through rebuilding society. Every widow who is helped to rebuild her shelter, every orphan who is comforted and placed in a caring family, every survivor of a killing who has been able to tell his or her story in public has already begun the reconciliation process. The time to start is now.

A Practical Proposal

The first step of this Reconciliation Program will be working with and through Rev. Mutabaazi's bishop and the Archbishop to have the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church of Rwanda study the proposal and own it for the whole church. Bishops will be encouraged and motivated to commit themselves to support this program in their dioceses. As a group, they seek to establish and strengthen among themselves a community building group to seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Also they will, as I am
sure they are already doing, be encouraged to continue discussing the problems the church in Rwanda is facing, and to work towards finding solutions. In this way they will be setting examples for the small groups at the local church which are the focus of the program.

From here, they will hopefully be unified and empowered to continue with talks with the Catholic and other Protestant church leaders, and to broaden and spread the vision to the other churches. Also from there, individual bishops will be empowered to carry this program in their respective dioceses, beginning with their clergy and lay readers, and encourage them to start the small groups in the local church at the grassroots. This is the center of the program. It will be a good idea and ideal situation to have the House of Bishops approve and carry out the program in the nine dioceses simultaneously. However, taking into consideration the processes involved in building consensus and the bureaucracy involved, this may take long. We hope to start this in the diocese immediately. In this way, as the House of Bishops continue to discuss the program, we will be carrying it on in the diocese as a pilot project.

The structure of the Episcopal church in Rwanda is such that each diocese is made up of several parishes (ranging from 10 to 25), and each parish is made up of many congregations, called sub-parishes (ranging from 5 to 15). The overseer of the diocese is the Bishop, of the parish is the Parish Priest, and of the sub-parish is the Lay Reader. The sizes of sub-parishes ranges between 80 and 400 people of all ages but the majority being women and youths. Dioceses are further subdivided into archdeaconries, made up of 5-8 parishes, and the leader is one of the senior Parish Priests in that region. At each level there are committees and councils which manage the work and life of the church but the overall governing body is the Diocesan Synod and the Diocesan Council whereby the latter works on behalf of the former which meets only once in four years.

In general, what is proposed is a two step process: first, the Churches should help their own members; second, they could reach out to others. In the first stage, which could last from a few weeks to a year or two, bishops, priests, ministers, and clergy generally will need to seek reconciliation among themselves over complicity of the Churches in the sudden events of 1994. The most important effort in this stage will be to bring about a commitment to work together among Anglican and Catholic bishops, for their authority will be necessary in order to direct the lower clergy and the congregations in the proposed process of reconciliation. A certain amount of staff, facilitators, and funding will have to be found, though the primary resources to be tapped in this proposal are those of every community. No doubt, the remaining Protestant leadership will also have to be invited and committed. Reconciliation cannot be achieved upon a disunited basis, nor can the country be reunited without respect for every minority.

With the bishop's guidance, the clergy could then be invited to explain the process to their congregations. The key step, we suggest, would be for priests to invite nominations of leaders of small groups to address the problems left over from the genocide. Sometimes the congregations would choose their own priests, but sometimes, perhaps because their priest had some complicity in the killing, they would prefer another respected member of their community. The aim is always to build, or rebuild, trust. The formation of small groups under local leaders, lay or clergy, would probably again take one or two years.

The main focus of the program are the small groups in the local church at the grassroots. The plan is to begin with youths who are the second largest group in the church, and who are energetic. They are also an important group because they are here today and hopefully will be here tomorrow. Young people were used during the genocide and indeed they were active in killing and other atrocities. They were an easy group to be manipulated by the politicians of the time. In the same way as the church got involved in the genocide but now must spearhead the reconciliation, young people too must be in the lead. I have a
conviction that the same reasons and factors which enabled the church to succeed in the role they played in the genocide should now be used positively to cause reconciliation. The church still has the same influence especially through the youths and this should be put to use to build a new and hopeful Rwanda.

The groups will be encouraged to meet regularly, maybe once a week to read and study the Bible, to pray and meditate and to discuss the relationship and application of the Bible reading to their life in the village, in the church and in the country at large, and a detailed syllabus will be drawn. The leaders of the groups will receive training on methods of leading groups and they will be encouraged to share the leadership of the groups. The objective of these groups will be to find a Biblical and Christian response to the problems being experienced in their communities as a result of the war and genocide. The groups will also be encouraged to discuss ways of addressing the social problems and concerns of people in their communities including widows, orphans, the elderly, the hungry etc., and will be encouraged to develop practical programs to assist these people.

In addition to these, the groups will be encouraged and facilitated to carry out cultural and recreational activities such as drama, dance, singing, sports etc. These will recreate the spirit of togetherness and unity, and help them to work together and cross barriers. Where
possible, they will be encouraged to start income generating activities such as small agriculture, poultry, livestock etc. projects. If funds are available, the leadership of this program should be able to contribute towards these projects.

After these groups have been established and are up and running in all the parishes of the diocese (probably 5-6 months) larger gatherings will be planned at Parish, Archdeaconry and eventually at Diocesan levels. At the Diocesan level we would invite one hundred from each parish and this would bring together at least 1300 young people. Facilities allowing, the invited number could be made higher, or such meetings could be done in shifts. During these larger meetings planned activities could include competitions in singing, drama, dancing, sports, etc. They will also include listening to invited speakers from different backgrounds, probably from South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, United States, and from within the country. Other activities will include discussions and debates of different issues such as political, social, religious, judicial matters. Time will be provided where the participants would go out in the villages and do some practical work to help someone who is needy or helpless. Needless to say, considerable time would be spent in Bible reading, prayer and worship.

Bible Study

As mentioned earlier, a syllabus for the Bible study would be developed by the program leadership. The Bible study will be the central focus of the group's activities, and will be
uniform for all the groups. The syllabus will include selected Bible themes which teach about sin, fall, forgiveness, repentance, confession, Christian love, community building, reconciliation, justice, fellowship, social evils etc. The Bible study course will include reading the Bible, discussing the themes and following guiding questions leading to application and reflection. The members will be required to make regular attendance, and those who attend faithfully will be given certificates at the end of each of the three
sections of the course. All the activities of the group shall be organized around and based on the Bible study.

Hopefully when these groups become active in the villages and the communities they shall prompt or strengthen the community spirit. They will learn and practice to live, play, and dance together, and eventually go out to work together. As they go out to help both Hutu and Tutsi widows and orphans they will begin to see how much both (and all people in Rwanda) are actually brothers and sisters, and how they have much more in common.

These youths will be encouraged to be disciples to those young people who are outside the church, in some cases who are redundant and idle. As these groups build strength, the church will have direct contact with the young men who still hold guns and are still killing. The youths in the church are either brothers, sisters or cousins of the ones out there in the bushes with guns. These groups will support their fellow members who are victims of the genocide, who are perpetrators, those who face justice, those imprisoned etc. and their relatives and families. I envision these groups becoming a strong core group and power for the communities. The church working with the youths has the potential to change the church and eventually the whole country.

What would the small groups do? They would identify their problems themselves and decide on the programs to meet their community's needs. We particularly envision that the work would start modestly, beginning with weekly prayer, meeting to decide what to do, visiting widows and orphans, helping the bereft reconstruct their houses, planting and weeding their gardens, and generally supporting the survivors. Developing youth programs would be important to save the children, even if the adults are too hardened by experience to forgive the others. The main idea is to create a safe place for encounter and dialogue.

Since the Churches are already integrated, composed of Tutsis and Hutus, our thinking is that, when small groups of Rwandans turn to practical problems like repairing walls and helping young people play sports (another integrated activity), they will discover their common humanity, and bitterness will begin to be replaced by joy. The process of healing, of reuniting as a nation, will begin. The instinct of revenge will be replaced by an inclination toward forgiveness. Granted freedom, we assume, small groups starting with relatively simple matters like rebuilding a widow's house will not fail to raise issues left over from the genocide and begin to settle them. Those tortured by guilt could beg for forgiveness; those seething over the wrong that has been done to them could confront the perpetrators. The Christian ethic of love of neighbor will support such a process. Slowly, trust would be reestablished.

The actual work of the small lay groups, or mixed clergy and lay groups, could go on indefinitely, for it could hardly be complete in even ten years. One final result, barely to be imagined, would be for reports to be sent to the bishops, who in time might issue pastoral letters about the achievement of national reconciliation.

II.

At some intermediate point, the Churches could turn to the larger social problem. Not all Rwandans will follow the lead of the Churches, and a large secular society, particularly citizens organized politically, may still harbor murderous impulses either for retaliation or for renewed genocide. One main danger lies in the prisons, which are filled by tens of thousands of accused perpetrators of genocide. The Churches could help to complete the process of justice now becoming effective after reorganization of the Rwandan justice system. The Organic Law of 1996 or perhaps the Law of Unity and Reconciliation (1999?) have yet to be trusted by the people and put into execution.

Another danger lies outside the prisons, wherever perpetrators have escaped, live in uneasy expectation of being apprehended, or operate in revived militias, especially when the Rwandan Patriotic Army is distracted by other operations, as in the Congo. Fear among lower level (Category 24) perpetrators of the genocide who are now hiding in villages or the bush is preventing them from coming forward and taking advantage of the law. The Churches have access to these people and could engage them in dialogue to inform them that a legal process exists for the reduction of sentences. Committees of lay people could hear the concerns of the perpetrators, as well as support the victims and their families.

We imagine a robust process as the small groups within the Churches take on the larger issues of national reconciliation. Unique resources are available to them: Church buildings as places of peace, hope, and healing for meetings; women, who have survived in disproportionate numbers (70 percent of the population) and who thus have an historic opportunity to contribute their feminine values to the process; partnerships with Churches either in-country or out-of-country (funding appeals worldwide for the Rwandan Church). Community resources like the talent of local people, rather than national ones, seem to us the key, since they will develop more democratic and resourceful habits among the people, upon which the independence of Rwanda will depend. Revival of the Gacaca village courts could also contribute to the work of such small groups. We imagine the people creating radio programs and traveling drama companies and newsletters giving progress reports on success of their programs. These will cost money, but money tends to materialize where there is a will. Work with children can appeal to imagination when means are slim. We are reminded of the custom of making yo-yos out of used shoe polish cans, grooved for the string and filled to keep spinning, which obviates need to import expensive Western varieties.

In short, the Churches could support persons making the difficult decision to come forward under the rule of law, the present impasse over acknowledging the genocide would begin to break up, reconciliation could increase, and the Churches would resume their role as leaders in the moral order.

One difficulty with the idea that the Churches could assist the State in achieving justice, lawyers with experience in Rwanda have pointed out, is that confessions made in a safe, spiritual setting of the Church would probably be revealed to the courts of the State. The result of confession would then become not forgiveness, but punishment. No one could be expected to come forward to confess within the Church's program of reconciliation, if they would thus betray themselves to the execution of the laws of the State. An answer to this objection is that prosecuting and defense attorneys usually have discretionary power to bring the victims into court to testify to mitigating or aggravating circumstances, and victims who felt that the accused had made amends within the Christian tradition could ask the judge to reduce or remit the penalty. That in itself would be an impressive exercise of Christian charity, bound to make a deep impression on the accused and hence likely to contribute again to reconciliation. Mercy depends on the waiver of punishment.

To be sure such mitigation will be possible, it would be wise to consult with the Ministry of Justice. There is danger as well as opportunity here (crisis), since the Rwandan Churches have historically been too closely associated with the State (approval of appointments of bishops, membership on governing committees). One lesson from the genocide will surely be that, as in the West, for the safety of the citizens as well as for the integrity of religion, Church and State ought to be kept separate. Whether reconciliation and justice can be
complementary, as above, will be a delicate and difficult process. We are confident that the lessons of the past will guide the people of Rwanda to a successful resolution.

Other difficulties to a larger social process of reconciliation strike us as endemic to everyday life rather than peculiar to our proposal. These include the Rwandan tradition of not gathering into villages (complicating the working of small Church groups), overpopulation, poverty in an agricultural economy, AIDS (not so bad as genocide), new trends in ordinary crime (notably rape). If that develops into a pan-African effort to undertake the historic task of rectifying the borders laid down by the colonial powers and forming federations of new states, reconciliation in Rwanda will become a very much more local problem, postponed probably after even more terrible sufferings.

The goals of our reconciliation project in Rwanda are to use Lederach's model to build relationships, provide a vehicle for expression of grief and loss with indigenous cultural processes, like the Gacaca; to provide other innovative techniques as a support to the indigenous processes and to apply Jubilee 2000 to canceling the Rwandan debt. We support Rwandans to reopen communication between Hutus and Tutsis, to build community, and to create a safe place for trust to grow between all divided classes or groups in the country. It is to encourage and nurture peace and healing within all the Churches in Rwanda, and to ensure that no member of one of the Churches or the society shall be excluded.

We are trying to make a contribution to the winding down of the fears and hatreds and continuing acts of violence left over from the genocide in Rwanda of 1994. We have concluded from our knowledge of human nature and of conditions in Rwanda that the Churches will be essential instruments of reconciliation, since only they can provide the faith, trust, and love necessary for so heartfelt a process. In secular, State institutions outside the Churches, one finds but a desire for justice, and in society where justice seems unavailable, for revenge.

We are encouraged by recent meetings of the bishops of the Catholic and Episcopal (Anglican) Churches, who, we understand, are quietly trying to formulate common approaches to reconciliation. We hope that they will invite the collaboration of Free Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Quaker, and other Protestant leaders. Hence, in this proposal, we prefer the term Churches (plural), since we assume that reconciliation cannot be achieved without all Christians
setting the example.

A Pilot Project of the Global Reconciliation Service

The mission of the Global Mediation and Reconciliation Service is to implement the General Assembly Resolution, the peoples of this planet's Sacred Right to peace as part of Chapter 6 of the UN charter, peaceful settlement, with prayer to bring hope, compassion and love into the process; embody the link between personal and global peace; establish reconciliation leadership as the model for facilitation and training; custom-design interventions for pre-post-conflict and protracted situations; apply psychological and spiritual perspectives for accountability and forgiveness; and offer hope, compassion and healing for human immobilization, trauma, frustration, anger and hatred.