“If they told you that a murderer were to be released into your neighborhood, how would you feel?” asks Antoine Rutayesire, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that left one out of eight of his countrymen dead. “But what if this time, they weren’t just releasing one but 40,000?” This chilling question is not hypothetical for Antoine or for his small, African country, which released 40,000 prisoners in 2003, and another 10,000 in 2007.
While the horrific story of Hutus slashing, bludgeoning, and burning their Tutsi neighbors has become familiar to many, a profound untold story unfolds today as tens of thousand of perpetrators who have confessed their crimes and served a minimum sentence return to live among their victims. With radical forgiveness, many survivors are embracing the very perpetrators who committed atrocities against them and their families. Hands that once swung machetes in violence now smooth mud bricks in peace as they build homes for their victims.
Rwanda looms as a vastly uncharted case study in forgiveness. Why are survivors who lost entire families willing to forgive and befriend those who destroyed their lives? Why are once-militant and murderous Hutus now repenting of their crimes? These questions beckon the humble to explore the pain, the mystery, and the heartbreaking beauty of the process.
Based on personal interviews and thorough research, As We Forgive returns to the boundary lines of genocide’s wounds and traces the route of reconciliation in the lives of Rwandans—victims, widows, orphans, and perpetrators—whose past and future intersect. We find in these stories how suffering, memory, and identity set up roadblocks to forgiveness, while mediation, truth-telling, restitution, and interdependence create bridges to healing. The result is a narrative that breathes with humanity and is as haunting as it is hopeful.
It is also a narrative desperately needed at this moment in history. We live in a violent world—Janjaweed raids in Sudan, brainwashed child-soldier attacks in Uganda, Sunni and Shiite conflicts in the Middle East. In Ireland, the Ivory Coast, and Eastern Europe deep wounds still separate people who have survived generations of conflict.
Though the global community is shrinking through technology and travel, it is not erasing the prejudices and the ideological tensions that have divided peoples for centuries. While traditional diplomacy may be able to successfully introduce temporary peace—it does not deal with the traumas, stereotypes, and histories that must be met if we hope to achieve sustainable peace and future reconciliation.
Nor are we immune to such violence and division on our own shores. Political polarization, 9/11, racial tensions, immigration frictions, and school shootings accentuate the alienation on the national landscape. Meanwhile, privately, we struggle with broken marriages or splintered relationships that pierce us to the core.
Could there be a common roadmap to reconciliation? Could there be a shared future after unthinkable evil? If forgiveness is possible after the slaughter of nearly a million in 100 days in Rwanda, then, today more than ever, we owe it to humanity to explore how one country is addressing perceptual, social-psychological, and spiritual dimensions to achieve a more lasting peace. If forgiveness is possible after genocide, then perhaps there is hope for the comparably smaller rifts that plague our relationships, our communities, and our nation. These stories of Rwandan reconciliation provide a roadmap not just for national healing, but for healing on a personal level as we learn what it means to forgive and be forgiven.