Truth telling and reconciliation in Nyamasheke, Rwanda

When Jonas Bakomeza returned home after three years away, he thought he might be targeted by acts of revenge. In 1994, during the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, he had participated in the killing of many people in his village. He had subsequently fled to the DRC (then known as Zaire) and been unable to return to his native province.

Jonas Bakomeza and Samuel Nsabimana, Urumuri Project participants, Nyamasheke District. Photo: International Alert.

“When community-based courts known as Gacaca Courts started I came back to my village because they were trustworthy and decided to tell the truth about my involvement in the genocide,” he said.

Because of his admission of guilt, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, of which 4 years were deferred and the remaining 8 were allowed to be allocated to community service. By staying in a community service camp, internees had the option of halving their sentence, which Jonas chose. Yet despite pleading guilty, having faith in the community-based courts, and serving four years at the camp, Jonas still held on to a secret. He knew where the body of a person murdered in his village had been thrown. Holding on to this information had prevented the victim from being given a proper burial at the genocide memorial.

When Jonas joined the Urumuri Community Dialogue Group in March 2022, he had a change of heart. He learnt that revealing the locations of bodies was a major step in consoling survivors, allowing their relatives to be buried with dignity. By revealing this information he could contribute to the reconciliation process and enable trust between genocide perpetrators and survivors.

“I committed the genocide against Tutsi. During the Gacaca Court, I provided all information related to my involvement in that genocide, but I couldn’t disclose the whereabouts of a young girl killed in my presence when she was found hiding. This has always haunted me especially every time I passed by the place where that body was thrown,” he said.

The Urumuri project, run by International Alert in partnership with ARCT-Ruhuka and funded by USAID, creates community dialogue aimed at fostering social cohesion among Rwandans dealing with trauma related to the genocide. It creates a safe environment to encourage openness and truthfulness.

It is after I attended Urumuri therapy group sessions that I got strength and courage to face my past.

Jonas Bakomeza, Urumuri project participant

As Jonas says: “Before joining the Urumuri therapy group, I failed many times to reveal this information. People we were with when that young girl was killed urged me to keep silent. But still, I was bound by my heinous deeds with strong feeling of shame. It is after I attended Urumuri therapy group sessions that I got strength and courage to face my past. In fact, Urumuri therapy group gave me the opportunity of sitting with the genocide survivors and chatting with them amicably. Because of this, my mind was convinced that I must reveal where the body of the young lady was thrown which I did and felt peace in my heart. Later, I increasingly became free to interact with genocide survivors from the same therapy group including the uncle of the victim, Samuel Nsabimana.”

Samuel was relieved to get the information of the whereabouts of his niece’s body. He didn’t think Jonas knew the location and had previously felt anger and frustration towards others in the village.

“When I got this information and took the body of my niece to the genocide memorial for a descent burial, I felt relieved and started seeing Jonas as a good person despite all he did. In fact, we decided to be true friends. For instance, I invite him at home when I have social gatherings which I couldn’t do before,” he said. “This project has led us to another long-waited step of reconciliation.”

The USAID-funded Urumuri project is implemented by International Alert Rwanda in partnership with ARCT-Ruhuka across 30 districts of Rwanda. It aims to improve social cohesion by strengthening inclusion, unity and resilience.


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