Forgiveness: a power of non-violence

May 23, 2011

Is it possible to have a dream of constructing a peaceful world like it’s a small world, where people take hand in hand regardless of race, ethnicity, and nationality, even on the place having a memory of bloodshed? The answer is still on the way to be proven, as Rwanda has been working on reconciliation and reconstruction of the nation, where was once ruined in 1994. In April in 1994, Hutus took machete in their hands and started killing their Tutsi neighbors. The occurrence is often recognized as a unique phenomenon due to mass involvement of ordinary citizens, basically Hutu farmers. Since the Tutsis and the Hutus in Rwanda had maintained a relatively peaceful ethnic relation by sharing the same language and culture, Tutsis’ agitation must have been huge. Even for outsiders, no one would have thought about that Rwanda, which was once highly praised as a model development nation in Africa, received fame of genocide in 1994. Today, death of as many as 800,000 people has still hacked and parlayed a number of Rwandese, and many of them have not taken a step to move on from the past yet. Although different experiences of genocide survivors and ex-perpetrators during the genocide still divide people, a documentary film as we forgive show power of forgiveness and hope for creation of a peaceful world again on the place of bloodshed.

The film was published in 2008, 14 years after the Rwandan genocide was taken place. Among various films having focus on the genocide, this film incredibly succeeds in drawing afterward struggles between genocide survivors and ex-perpetrators. The struggles have started in 2003 when Rwandan president Robert Kagame announced release of thousands of prisoners who had confessed their sin. In the film, the Tutsi survivors show their agitation and struggles of how to face with the killers of their family members and relatives. To make matters worth, in some cases, they exactly know who killed their beloved ones because the killers were often their neighbors. Two Tutsi women, Rosaria and Chantale, featured in the film struggle how to forgive ex-perpetrators. Especially, Chantale’s sorrow is deep. She cannot go to a church to pray any more, where most killings were taken place, and she does not want to forgive her father’s killer John under any circumstance. How could they do such inhumane things? How come can they ask for forgiveness? How can I forgive them? A pitiful scar on Rosaria’s back and Chantale’s angrily cry show audience how deep the genocide left scars both on their bodies and minds.

Then, the ex-killers were just like “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible”? No, they are not. As Saveri who killed Rosaria’s family says, most people were pushed to join. There was no choice for them other than killing. He describes his actions during the genocide “unbelievable”, and he was even afraid to leave the prison in fear of facing with Rosaria and her family.  John, another perpetrator, who killed Chantale’s father, says he felt like he was an animal during the genocide. Their anxiety and guilty are captured so real in this film, which written documents probably cannot provide for readers. While people are often inclined to sympathize with obvious victims, audience would know that the genocide also paralyzed people on the other side. Yes, they can give excuses by saying “they are not responsible.” They were not wrong in a sense that political extremists incited killings and gave the only one choice of “join” to Hutus. However, running away from the fact they indeed killed their neighbors is not a solution, and that is what the film put emphasis on.

Both forgiving ex-perpetrators and seeking forgiveness from the survivors are not easy things to do. Even facing and accepting the fact is difficult, and forgiveness has to take further steps to reach. Besides, it was genocide not discrimination, repression, or anything like those. More strong hatred, which could promote violence as a mean of retaliation, must have existed there. In order for the survivors to forgive the ex-perpetrators and for them to be forgiven by the survivors, various efforts have been made through the civil society organizations (CSOs) and local communities. Such as tree housing projects, which ex-prisoners construct houses for the survivors, and counseling are the way to bring people together and enable close communication. In the film, communication is showed as a way to understand each other. Both Chantale and John were afraid of meeting each other, and they finally had the very first meeting 14 years after the genocide with the help of a faith-based organization. We cannot see visible progress during the meeting, but their communication brought invisible but certain changes to both Chantale’s and John’s minds. In fact, Chantale joined tree housing project and forgave him later on. Also, John felt much more freedom in his mind and made up his mind to start asking forgiveness from her. Running away from problems or keeping in one’s shell is not a solution, and these actions might cause more violent actions. Bishop John further explains importance of forgiveness in the society. According to him, forgiveness is a counterforce to desire employing violence, and non-violence is needed to reconstruct the nation and lead better future.

 Rwanda has a good sign of leading a non-violent society. As Joy Muana, a 15 year-old school girl, proves that ethnic division is somewhat eased among younger generation. She is a victim of the genocide, and she explains she used to feel angry toward the ex-perpetrators. When she forgives, she feels much better. Rather than having grudge and feeling angry, she chooses to wish and work for construction of a peaceful future of the country and unity among Rwandese. Also, Gahigi, who lost 142 members of his family, involves in promoting confession of ex-prisoners and working for reconciliation. Like them, stepping toward to those who killed their beloved ones is not easy. But efforts they have made and wishes they have had have reflected in the society. Indeed, there have been no major violent conflicts among Tutsis and Hutus after the genocide so far. Besides, efforts have been made by ex-perpetrators as well. Beyond comprehension, offering more tangible helps for the survivors actually works to restore trust. It must take time, and they cannot make dynamic steps. But I believe it is the way. If forgiveness is the ultimate form of love as the film emphasizes, it does not come right away. Therefore, we have to be patient to see whether non-violence would come at the last.

In short, Rwanda is still under construction of it’s a small world where a peaceful society and unity of Rwandese exist. 14 years may not be long enough for people to recover from injuries they got in 1994 genocide, and scars that the extreme violence inflicted on people may be too deep to cure. However, efforts made by people should not be ignored, and pursuing non-violence solutions show hope. The film proves that forgiveness is a strong nonviolent power. Violence is always strong; it has never continued. Rwanda was not an exception, and in fact, the nonviolence movement has continued much longer than use of violence. Of course, nonviolence needs supports. A number of supports, which can surpass threats of violence, are needed. But once it succeeds, a society like it’s a small world is not a dream, I believe.


As We Forgive. Dir. Laura Waters Hinson. 2008. Film.

Further Readings

Sarkin, Jeremy. “The Tension Between Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Politics, Human Rights, due Process and the Role of the Gacaca Courts in Dealing with the Genocide.” Journal of African Law. Journal of African Law, 2011. Web. 5 Mar. 2011.

Varshney, Ashtosh. “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society.” World Politics. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.

MPT Intern –Mari Shibahara-


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