Forgiving Your Family's Killers

Rwandan genocide survivor lives with killers

Apr 06, 1999 Eastern

By Todd Pitman

KIGALI, April 6 (Reuters) - Five years ago a mob of Hutu militiamen surrounded Pierre Kavyoi's home, hacked his wife and four children to death, slashed at his head with machetes and left him for dead in a
mass grave.

Now Kavyoi lives across the street from Kigali's Kimironko prison, where his family's killers are held behind the high red brick walls and
guard towers which dominate the neighbourhood.

The attack mirrored thousands of others in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, a
nightmare of bloodletting in which more than 800,000 Tutsis and
moderate Hutus were systematically hunted down and slaughtered with
machetes, nail-studded clubs and grenades.

Kavyoi, 39, suffered deep machete wounds to his head, hands and
shoulders but he survived.

Bloodied and battered, he regained consciousness at night among the pile
of bodies, scrambled out of the open pit and escaped on foot.

``I meet them often when they are working outside the prison, we know
each other well,'' Kavyoi told Reuters on Tuesday.

``I speak to them, I chat with them...They are there, and they are
ready to accept that they killed my family.''

The slaughter began in the early hours of April 7, 1994, and
continued for 100 days as extremist Hutus tried to wipe out the country's
minority Tutsis, and any Hutus who refused to join in.

It ended in July when the Tutsi-led rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front seized
power and installed a transitional, ethnically mixed government made
up of groups opposed to the murderous former regime.

Five years later, the physical scars of those nightmarish days and nights
have largely been erased.

In the capital, where garbage trucks collected more than 60,000 bodies in
1994, most buildings have been repaired and streets bustle with
businessmen hawking clothes and watches and chatting on mobile

On Tuesday, Kavyoi watched from his home as hundreds of prisoners
dressed in pink uniforms marched out of Kimironko prison under the
watchful eye of a few lightly armed policemen to collect water in yellow
jerry cans.

Unlike most survivors of the genocide, Kavyoi says he is ready to
forgive his killers.

``If they ask me forgiveness, I am ready to forgive. But there are other
people who can't forgive because of what is in their hearts, because of
what they've seen,'' Kavyoi said.

He said his family's murderers have told him they regret taking part in the
killings, and he blamed he former government for inciting Hutu
peasants to attack their neighbours.

``It was because of events, because of the government at time. They
taught people to kill,'' Kavyoi said.

``Not all (Hutus) had the idea to kill...Some came to loot goods from
your house, and others who came were scared to stay home because
the militia said: 'If you don't come with us, you too must be guilty','' he

For those survivors who have found it more difficult to forgive, the pace
of justice has been painfully slow.

About 124,000 genocide suspects -- close to 90 percent of the total
prison population -- are crammed in jails across the country but only
1,282 cases have been tried so far.

Twenty-two convicts were publicly executed last year and around 200
more have been sentenced to death.

At the current rate, Justice Ministry officials estimate it will take 200
years to clear the caseload.