Portraits of Reconciliation: If I Am Not Stubborn, Life Moves Forward

Abby Zimet

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide that in three bloody unimaginable months - April to July 1994 - saw the slaughter of close to a million Tutsis by a Hutu majority urged to kill off the inyenzi, or cockroaches. Over two decades, the traumatized people of Rwanda have attempted to "circumscribe the horror" and find reconciliation in a multitude of ways, including taking part in local trials called gacacas where perpetrators confessed to their crimes, holding an International Criminal Tribunal, doing community work to rebuild the country and their connections to each other and counselling sessions with groups like AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent) wherein Tutsi survivors officially pardon the Hutu who burned down their house or murdered their family. None of it is easy: One woman says that for a long time, "I was like a dry stick." But ultimately, there is one simple reallity: "We are living together." As part of a display starting this month in The Hague exploring the theme of forgiveness, photographer Pieter Hugo took a stunning series of portraits pairing perpetrators and the victims who granted them formal pardon. They stand together, though Hugo notes, “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness."

"He killed my father and three brothers. He did these killings with other people, but he came alone to me and asked for pardon. He and a group of other offenders who had been in prison helped me build a house with a covered roof. I was afraid of him - now I have granted him pardon, things have become normal, and in my mind I feel clear.”

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