Rwanda: a lesson in reconciliation? (Trailer for film Unforgiven)

Several months ago I stumbled across this trailer.
I wanted to share it in honour of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide.
(FYI the hauntingly beautiful song is Slip Away by Josh Garrels)

Unforgiven: Rwanda from Augustin Pictures on Vimeo.

I am really looking forward to seeing this film. I have been unable to find much info on it, other than that it may be released sometime in 2014, but it looks incredible.

I was 6 years old when Tutsis and moderate Hutus began being slaughtered in their homes and in the streets of Rwanda. I was too young to know what was going on, and when I learned about it, later watching Hotel Rwanda and reading Shake Hands with the Devil by Roméo Dallaire, I recall being sickened and having nightmares. Indeed, in my International Social Work course we watched a documentary on the high prevalence of vicarious trauma in the military personnel and humanitarian workers who were in Rwanda and other conflict zones. In that same university course we discussed the importance and role of international criminal tribunals. The most well known one is, of course, the Nuremberg Trials following WW2. However, here are some interesting and notable facts about the The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda:

  • The ICTR is still ongoing, is expected to conclude sometime in 2014
  • The tribunal was the first to conclude that rape and sexual assault constituted acts of genocide in that they were committed in order to target a specific group.
  • The ICTR was the first to convict a head of government, the prime minister of Rwanda during the genocide


What really caught my attention though was the Justice and Reconciliation process implemented at the community level in Rwanda. A huge part of the difficulty for the survivors of the genocide is that they were and continued to be living as neighbours next to the very people who had attacked them. In recognition of that, several things were put into place:

  • Because so many Rwandans were still awaiting national trials, the government re-established a traditional village court system called the Gacaca. Originally, the Gacaca was used to settle family and village disputes. It was reinstated to allow victims the opportunity to hear what had happened to their loved ones, and for perpetrators to confess and ask for forgiveness.
  • Reconciliation villages were built where victims and perpetrators live as neighbours once again.
  • Country-wide education was implemented to prevent genocide ideology (placing emphasis on patriotism, not on ethnicity)


Of course, as one can imagine, there can be no easy road back from that kind of darkness, and it is hard to evaluate the success of the reconciliation efforts.  Yet, there are glimpses of light – of forgiveness and healing.

Unfortunately, there have been atrocities prior to and since the Rwandan Genocide, and I continue to be horrified and appalled by the ways in which people manage to harm one another. I sometimes lose hope, thinking we seem to have not learned from our mistakes, but then again it is impossible to judge and calculate the atrocities and events that may have been prevented. What is known is that there are clear warning signs of genocide and conflict – the international community must pay attention and intervene when required. At a national and local level, we must demand fair and just action from our leaders. Most importantly, at a personal level, we must practice and teach tolerance and love for each other in our daily lives. I have hope, that if we each take good care of our own small corner of the world, it may be liveable after all.


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