Why I Like Joseph K. Sebarenzi

Why I Like Joseph K. Sebarenzi Sebarenz-iJoseph K. Sebarenzi is one of many genocide survivors who made a decision to forgive and to work for true reconciliation publicly. He is an advocate of the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a prerequisite to sustainable peace in Rwandan communities.

Immaculée Ilibagiza is another genocide survivor who has offered her story to the world as a living testimony that forgiveness is possible. Immaculée believes that reconciliation happens when a victim taps into his or her faith, hope and love and forgives the perpetrator. She has met with her once-good-neighbours-turned killers of her family and felt pity and love for them thus forgiving them.

Unlike Immaculée, Joseph is among the very few Tutsi genocide survivors that insist that true reconciliation cannot be achieved solely by forgiving the Hutu perpetrators of 1994 genocide while keeping silence about the mass killings against the same Hutu community, which is also denied the opportunity to bury, mourn, and remember their loved ones who perished in the violence.

Joseph Sebarenzi, lost both his parents, seven siblings, and many other relatives in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 but luckily himself and his immediate family were out of the country. He returned to Rwanda right after the end of the genocide and was elected as the Parliament House speaker. As a head of the Rwanda Parliament, Joseph distinguished himself as an authority that put first good governance and independence of the legislature. As speaker, Sebarenzi endured heavy-handed intimidation from Kagame and the coterie of followers who supported his leadership. Due to his open opposition to some of Kagame’s behaviors and decisions, Sebarenzi’s own life was threatened, eventually leading him to escape and seek asylum in the US, where he is now a citizen.

He disagreed with his former government in its window-dressing initiatives for reconciliation between Hutus and Tutsi communities. I heard him on BBC, on Aljazeera, on Voice of America or on CNN as well as in his articles and lectures and I liked his new approach to achieve sustainable reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi.

Joseph Sebarenzi believes that reconciliation happens when the conflicting parties seat together and bring about “an honest acknowledgement of the harm or injury each party has inflicted on the other; sincere regrets and remorse for the injury done; readiness to apologize for one’s role in inflicting the injury; readiness of the conflicting parties to “let go” of the anger and bitterness caused by the conflict and the injury; commitment by the offender to not repeat the injury; sincere effort to redress past grievances that caused the conflict and compensate the damage caused to the extent possible; and entrance into a new mutually enriching relationship”.

In his article “Rwanda: The Fundamental Obstacles to Reconciliation” he explains why reconciliation is crucially needed and how it can be achieved:

Reconciliation in Rwanda is an absolute necessity. The genocide of the Tutsi in 1994 requires, in itself, some process of reconciliation between the victims and the perpetrators. This state-sponsored genocide was “a well planned and massively executed genocide, which led to the brutal slaughter of up to one million defenseless children, women, and men.”

baby-staring-300x173The 1994 genocide was in fact a culmination of cyclical mass killings that started in 1959 when the Tutsi no longer had power. In addition, the former Hutu army and militia launched several mortal attacks on Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997 and 1998 in which they “slaughtered members of the Tutsi minority, government officials, and others who refused to support the rebellion.” During the raids, hundreds of Tutsi soldiers were killed and hundreds others injured. All these injuries to the Tutsi community created deep wounds, hatred, and fear that now constitute serious obstacles to a peaceful coexistence between the two communities.

The Tutsi-led government in place since July 1994 itself has been responsible for several waves of violence against the Hutu community. There are persistent accusations of mass killings against Hutu refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United Nations Security Council has discussed massacres and other atrocities and violations of international humanitarian law committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially in the Eastern provinces, including crimes against humanity.

Also, during the Hutu rebellion in Northern Rwanda in 1997 and 1998, soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) killed unarmed civilians, sometimes in pursuit of insurgents, but also in places or at times in which no rebels were present but where the soldiers suspected the population of supporting them. These soldiers may have caused the deaths of hundreds and perhaps thousands of persons who had sought refuge in caves at Kanama in 1997.

In addition, several other cases of unexplained killings and disappearances of Hutu have been reported, most notably, the scandalous methods used to close the camp of Kibeho in 1995 in Southern Rwanda. These experiences have fostered anger and fear within the Hutu community that, in turn, impede the possibility of peaceful inter-ethnic relations.

When I talk about the genocide against the Tutsi, and the mass killings against the Hutu, I have no intention of equating the genocide to other crimes. As a survivor of the genocide, I know what genocide means.

However, a reconciliation process is needed to resolve the different contentions of the various parties involved. For the victims, the most pressing need is the truth, healing, and prevention of future violent conflict that a successful reconciliation process could provide.

Problems of Reconciliation in Rwanda?

The way reconciliation is conducted in Rwanda now does not meet the criteria listed above. First, the NCUR had deliberately avoided fulfilling its prime objective, which is to organize an in-depth national debate on unity and national reconciliation. The spirit behind the national debate was to facilitate truth telling between Hutu and Tutsi and to set in motion a process of sustainable coexistence between the two communities.

This has not yet happened and apparently there is no political will to organize such a delicate but useful exercise. What the national commission does is to sensitize the population about unity and reconciliation and the monstrosity of the genocide of Tutsi, especially to expose the failures of past regimes.

Nothing is said about the mass killings against the Hutu community, which is also denied the opportunity to bury, mourn, and remember their loved ones who perished in the violence.

Second, the traditional form of justice put in place is irrelevant to the complexity of the situation since it is a one-way process and it prosecutes and punishes instead of rehabilitating relationships between the two ethnic groups. Genocide suspects are the only focus on this institution, whereas the original intent was to establish an institution to look into human rights violations committed by both communities.

Of course one should not equate the genocide to other crimes, but in a reconciliation process all grievances must be addressed, and reparations must be provided in a restorative and equitable manner. Traditionally, the Gacaca dealt only with minor cases; it neither handled criminal cases nor required judges or jail terms. The Gacaca has little to do with Rwandan culture, especially since the genocide and other crimes against humanity and their collateral effects have destroyed the fundamental value structure that formed the basis of the Gacaca.

Third, Gacaca will obviously speed up the trials of more than 120,000 genocide suspects, but it “may be subject to political pressures, and lacks some basic internationally recognized safeguards, such as the right to legal counsel.” Fourth, the Gacaca has little to do with reconciliation between the perpetrators and the victims and does not seek to repair the social relationships that the conflict affected.

It seems to me that there will be no reconciliation in Rwanda unless the truth about the past human rights abuses are disclosed and acknowledged. The past human rights abuses should be handled not through retributive justicebut rather through restorative justice, which provides an opportunity to both the victims and the perpetrators to take part in the reconciliation process. Restorative justice can be achieved in the framework of a truth and reconciliation commission similar to the South African one.

Joseph Sebarenzi concludes that “reconciliation efforts in Rwanda have thus far had fundamental problems due to the inappropriate approaches taken. The fact that the genocide was a horrendous crime against humanity perpetrated by the Hutu does not excuse the mass killings committed by the Tutsi. Although the two kinds of crimes are totally different, the reconciliation process requires establishing a complete picture of all crimes, especially the gross human rights violations. Also, since the restorative justice has the benefit of reconciling the victims and perpetrators as well as creating new relationships between the two communities, the current Gacaca form of justice should tackle the crimes committed by both sides, and should include the healing and reconciling aspects of restorative justice.”

The appropriate approach to promote a sustainable reconciliation is a truth commission similar to the one in South Africa, known to be one of the best conceived and the most ambitious commission to date. Otherwise, the Hutu and the Tutsi are closed up and could explode again in the future.  Of course, this process requires some prerequisites such as a democratic and representative government since “democracy is a prime peace builder and an effective confidence building measure.”

His memoir “God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation” is a harrowing tale of his survival, his exile before 1994 genocide and his return to his homeland to be elected speaker of the Rwandan parliament. The book recounts Sebarenzi’s political career, with his meteoric rise to Speaker of Parliament and his escalating conflict with Kagame.

Source: TheProxyLake

 


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