This month, Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR) conducted its fifth ‘Restorative Justice’ three-day training workshop, this time in Juru Sector, Bugasera District, Eastern Province. The class was made up of 15 participants, half of which were genocide victims, half ex-offenders and a handful of local authority members. The aim of the class was to promote continuing unity and reconciliation, and sustainable peaceful cohabitation within communities. By training participants to become peace activists, PFR hoped that they would continue to mobilise others in their respective communities in the prevention and resolution of any conflict that might arise.
The first day started with a brief presentation by each attendee stating their name, job, and where they came from originally. There was a colourful mix of backgrounds in attendance showing the diversity of people that the reconciliation villages encompass and demonstrating the miraculous feat that has already been accomplished in maintaining peaceful living environments. PFR’s project manager, Felix, then asked participants to begin by contemplating why exactly they were all there, concluding that the reason the workshop was being conducted was to fix something that had been broken (faith, unity, trust), to continue to bring people together after the 1994 conflict, and to understand what they had all lived through. Throughout the course of the day, participants answered and discussed further topics including the definition of conflict, the origins and impact of the 1994 conflict, and the meaning of true reconciliation. These discussions provoked thoughtful responses from the group and enabled them to gain an understanding of the problems they might face.
PFR's Project Manager, Felix, leads the workshop
The aim of the second day was to address methods of conflict prevention and resolution. Many different ideas were shared including the importance of dialogue with a mediator, allowing concerned parties to express themselves and come to an agreement. This addressed low-level conflict such as family conflict. At a community level it was concluded that law could be used in the prevention of conflict, within organisations and co-operatives rules could be written and used to govern behaviour in times of conflict, or if necessary the local authorities could become involved. Finally, on a national level it was suggested that force could be used to prevent or resolve conflict, although all agreed this was a last resort, and that it was much better to resolve conflict before it had the chance to escalate.
Men and women listen attentively before discussing their ideas
On the third day, participants discussed the merits of using restorative justice instead of classical jurisdiction. By the end of the day it was clear that participants understood the vital difference between the two methods. In classical jurisdiction, concerned parties are not involved in the resolution process, decisions are taken by lawyers and often not welcomed by the people involved. This prevents the concerned parties from building a lasting social relationship. In restorative justice however, the concerned parties express their points of view and whilst the mediator does lead the dialogue, he does not take sides. The two people are made to work together, to find their own solution, and to reach an agreement that they are both happy with and therefore creating a solid, sustainable social relationship.
During the three-day workshop, several participants also gave testimonies that demonstrated the continuing success of reconciliation and unity programmes conducted by PFR. One ex-offender described the internal struggle he had faced in deciding to confess his crimes. On the one hand he had the burden of shame and guilt and on the other he was fearful of the impact that telling the truth would have either in death or in a life prison sentence. After attending many reconciliation and unity workshops in prison, he came to the realisation that the only way he would be at peace would be to confess and repent the genocide crimes he had committed. God answered his prayers, and shortly after his confession, the President issued a decree stating that all prisoners who had confessed would be released. His release into the community in 2003 was not easy, and he was afraid to meet with his victim’s families but PFR’s follow-up policy enabled him to gradually build up the courage to meet with the widow of a man he had killed and then to continue meeting with other families. This gave him the chance to tell them the full truth and to say how truly sorry he was. Not only did this allow him a sense of inner peace but a testimony from the widow demonstrated the benefit for genocide-survivors. She too had attended many reconciliation and unity workshops, but within the community, and it had taken a long time for her to realise that despite the bitterness in her heart, the only way she could live peacefully again with another ethnic group (Hutu) was to grant forgiveness to her husband’s killer. When she first arrived in the village she viewed all Hutus as killers, and that all had been involved in the murder of Tutsis but now she says she realises that it was the pain and anger she was holding on to that had led her to this conclusion. By meeting her husband’s murderer not only could she learn the whole truth, but she could also understand that it was just one man that killed her loved one, and now she lives, shares with, and helps all her community members. By helping these two people to come together, PFR demonstrated the overwhelming power of restorative justice.
PFR will continue conducting workshops in September, and with Pastor Deo’s month-long restorative justice training course under his belt, we can expect continuing success. If you would like any more information or would like to help us in our efforts to promote reconciliation and unity throughout Rwanda please visit our website at www.pfrwanda.org or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.