Former President of the Parliament of Rwanda speaks to BYU students

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Joseph Sebarenzi, former President of the Parliament of Rwanda speaks to BYU students. He spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda. Photo by Spencer Mecham
Joseph Sebarenzi, former President of the Parliament of Rwanda speaks to BYU students. He spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda. (Spencer Mecham)

Former president of the Parliament of Rwanda Joseph Sebarenzi spoke to BYU students on Wednesday about the genocide in Rwanda and forgiveness.

Sebarenzi, who lost a majority of his family in the hundred-day massacre, described the genocide as a “catastrophe beyond any understanding.”

“It happened because people fed the evil that is inside all of us,” Sabarenzi said. “Between 500,000 and 800,000 Tutsis (pronounced Tootsie) were killed.”

The genocide, which has been the topic of multiple films and U.N. resolutions, occurred when the Hutu people of Rwanda rose up against the ruling class of the Tutsis.

Sabarenzi described gangs of Hutus going from house to house with machetes, killing everyone and destroying homes. Eventually the Tutsis regained power, striking the fear of revenge into many Hutu hearts.

For this reason he chose to focus his speech on forgiveness and reconciliation, using his own story as a powerful example of both.

“That’s wrong when we go after people and overcome an injustice with another injustice,” Sabarenzi said.

He told a story of visiting a prison after the genocide, and of how he came across the man that may have been responsible for the death of his family.

“I was struck by his condition,” he said. “I could see that this man was suffering. Before I left I reached into my pocket, pulled out some money, and gave it to him for food.”

He discussed his four-step solution to healing Rwanda and preventing a similar genocide in the future.

The first step he discussed was to talk about the truth. He described the current system where children are taught all about the atrocities committed by the Hutu population, but learn nothing of the Tutsi crimes that may have partially caused the genocide.

The second step was justice on both sides. While thousands of Hutus were prosecuted for the genocide, there was no justice for the Tutsi army actions before the genocide.

His third key was peace. He described how there are two kinds of peace, negative peace and positive peace.

“Negative peace means you can go anywhere and it is safe and the crime rate is low” Sabarenzi said. “Positive peace means you have those, but in addition people feel safe to speak out, they feel safe to participate in the political process, they have hope of the future. We don’t have that and it’s a problem.”

Lastly, he spoke of mercy, discussing how people need to develop this value and love their fellow human beings. He said he believes his personal efforts towards forgiveness and reconciliation saved his life.

“We suffer, that is normal,” Sabarenzi said. “But we need to find ways to cope with that suffering.”

He said he hoped that students would learn from his experience and be able to deal with their own losses.

 

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