Rwanda Genocide 20th Anniversary: Woman Forgives Attacker Who Killed Her Child and Severed Her Right Hand

( [email protected] ) Apr 09, 2014 01:41 PM EDT
Rawanda Genocide
Mukarurinda Alice, 43, who lost all her family members during mass killings in the 1994 genocide, but says she is now living with the man who hacked her wrist off, looks on in Nyamata, a small town outside of Rwandan capital Kigali April 4, 2014. Reuters/Noor Khamis

In an incredible display of grace, Alice Mukarurinda not only forgave, but befriended Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the man who killed her 9 month old baby and severed one of her hands with a machete during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Over two decades later, the former enemies work alongside one another to build brick houses for genocide survivors; Alise is the treasurer and Emmanuel is the vice president of the reconciliation organization.

Alise says her faith in God allowed her to forgive her attacker. "The Bible says you should forgive and you will also be forgiven," she says.

Yet, when Alice discusses the genocide, she becomes emotional. She recalls hiding in a swamp with her baby daughter when Emmanuel Ndayisaba and several others attacked them.

She remembers cowering in the mud with Emmanuel Ndayisaba standing over her, his machete raised, asking: "Do you know me?"

She woke up three days later, discovering she had lost both her child and her right hand. She was told that she had been rescued by a group of survivors, according to the Associated Press.

"Whenever I look at my arm I remember what happened," said Alice, now a mother of five with a deep scar on her left temple where Emanuel hacked her with a machete.

Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide; the horrific mass murder fueled by years of civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. The genocide claimed over one million lives in 100 days of bloody pandemonium, leaving the country in economic disarray.

A Christian who sang in his church choir, Emmanuel had never killed before. However, when Hutu extremists took him to a Tutsi home and ordered him to kill them using a machete, Emmanuel did so, murdering 14 people. The next day, Emmanuel found a Tutsi doctor in hiding and killed him, too. The day after, he killed two women and a child.

"The very first family I killed, I felt bad, but then I got used to it," he says. "Given how we were told that the Tutsis were evil, after the first family I just felt like I was killing our enemies."

Following the genocide, Emmanuel was overcome with guilt, and in 1996, he turned himself in to authorities.  He was imprisoned from 1997 until 2003, when President Kagame pardoned Hutus who confessed.

Following his release, Emmanuel sought out family members of his victims, asking for forgiveness. He was shocked to find Alice, the woman he thought he had slaughtered.

He fell to his knees, asking her for forgiveness. After two weeks of thought and long discussions with her husband, she forgave her former attacker. "I forgive you, and may God forgive you, also," Alice told Emmanuel.

Rawanda Genocide Story of Forgiveness
(Photo: AP) 

While Rwandan government is still accused by human rights groups of maintaining an oppressive hold on its people and killing political opponents, even the country's biggest critics are amazed by the relative peace that currently reigns in the Rwanda. Groups like Alice and Emmanuel's reconciliation organization have contributed greatly to improving Rwanda's economy and stability.

Josephine Munyeli ,the director of peace and reconciliation programs in Rwanda for World Vision and a survivor of the genocide herself, believes many victims and killers of the genocide would like to reconcile with one another.

"Forgiveness is possible. It's common here," she says. "Guilt is heavy. When one realizes how heavy it is the first thing they do to recuperate themselves is apologize."