Joseph Sebarenzi Shares his Perspective on the Genocide in Rwanda in Two Lectures

Joseph Sebarenzi: justice after the genocide (French lecture) 

Joseph Sebarenzi, former President of the Parliament of Rwanda and national public speaker, discussed measures taken to ensure justice after the genocide in Rwanda at a BYU French department lecture.

PROVO, Utah (Nov. 19, 2014)—When legal action can only go so far to ensure justice in Rwanda after the genocide of 1994, how does a nation promote lasting peace in the face of a tragedy that still haunts them 20 years later? Joseph Sebarenzi, former President of the Parliament of Rwanda and a survivor of the genocide, addressed the importance of empathy, reconciliation and faith when justice cannot completely resolve national conflict.

Sebarenzi began by explaining the magnitude of lives claimed during the genocide.  He said that it was difficult to determine the number of victims because the government had no reliable statistics. But, according to Human Rights Watch, the closest estimate was between 500,000 and 800,000 Tutsis and a considerable number of Hutus killed from April to July 1994.

One difficulty in taking legal action and promoting justice in Rwanda after the genocide was that too many people were involved. “People were being killed by their neighbors,” he explained. “In 1994, the government did all they could to implicate the highest possible number of Hutus with the idea that if everyone was implicated, there would be no need for legal action.”

Sebarenzi 1Sebarenzi said that in the wake of this tragedy, possible solutions for confronting the genocide were narrowed down to two philosophies: restorative justice and punitive justice. The latter form of justice demands that the individual who committed the crime be punished in proportion to the crime committed. The former proposes to not simply punish just to punish, but to use punishment as a means to prevent crime in the future. Sebarenzi said that Rwanda tried to use both.

He also identified four different court systems that the Rwandan government used to take legal action against the Hutus implicated in the genocide. One was to establish multiple “gacacas,” a traditional community court system that was used to solve problems between family and neighbors. Although over 12,000 tribunals took place under this system, many of the judges were ordinary citizens without any background in law.

Despite the objective to promote justice and reconciliation, Sebarenzi explained that the justice systems were flawed, too slow and often times corrupted by judges under political influence. Massive arrests, public killings and other actions have been taken over the years to establish justice after the genocide in Rwanda, but it has done little to ensure peace and prevent the possibility of another genocide in the future.

Sebarenzi quoted 1 Corinthians 6:19, saying, “’What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?’” He continued, “The spirit cannot live with hate. Encourage your neighbors to forgive before taking revenge.”

Sebarenzi reasoned that loving one’s neighbors, even people who committed crimes against them, helps people to grow in their faith and establish the empathy necessary for reconciliation. He believes this is something that everyone is capable of, as well as something that is necessary to promote peace and prevent future tragedies, like the genocide in Rwanda.

“Justice doesn’t solve all problems,” he concluded. “You must develop faith, empathy, and a sense of pragmatism.

For more information on Joseph Sebarenzi and his work, visit his facebook page or contact Chantal Thompson.

 —Sylvia Cutler (B.A. English ’17)


Joseph Sebarenzi: forgiveness after the genocide (English lecture) 

PROVO, Utah (Nov. 19, 2014)—The power to forgive is an art difficult to master. But Joseph Sebarenzi, former president of Rwanda’s Parliament, has dedicated his life to mastering it. In his lecture, titled “Peace and Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” Sebarenzi described his efforts.

Growing up as a Tutsi in a Hutu-controlled Rwanda, hardship and tragedy filled the walls of his village. In one instance, his family hid in an Hutu friend’s home and Hutu rebels came to the door and said, “We know you have Tutsi in there. You are going to die today.” Sebarenzi narrowly escaped death multiple times until he fled Rwanda in 1994.

During that summer of 1994, he discovered that his parents and seven of his siblings were murdered in the genocide. In Sebarenzi’s words, “It was a catastrophe beyond understanding.” After hearing the news about his family, Sebarenzi came to a crossroads. He could either “feed the evil that’s inside all of us” or he could feed the good. He chose the latter and decided to make it his mission to help other people do the same.

Sebarenzi 2Finding reconciliation, according to Sebarenzi, is built on four key principles: truth, justice, peace and mercy. Reconciliation is not easy. While Rwanda is still working on improving truth, justice, peace and mercy in the country, they are making significant strides. According to Sebarenzi, “The truth that is taught is convenient to the government, but the country is working on getting together and talking about what happened.”

He went on to say that the country is implementing a justice system to expedite the trials of the people involved in the genocide. He also spoke about the current state of peace in the country. “We have negative peace in Rwanda. People feel safe in the country, but they don’t feel safe to speak out and participate in their communities and in the government as people should.”

Sebarenzi also talked about mercy and how that needs to be a personal skill that people develop. While serving as president of the Parliament of Rwanda, Sebarenzi had the opportunity to visit prisons where most inmates were being detained for genocide crimes. On one specific trip he ran into the former mayor of his hometown, who promoted killing all of the Tutsi residents, including his family, in order to acquire their property and possessions. Sebarenzi could tell the man was very ill and weak. Implementing the principle of mercy and forgiveness, he gave his former mayor money to buy food. Speaking of the event, he said, “When you extend a kindness to someone, that kindness oftentimes extends back to you.”

Sebarenzi set three priorities beforehand that dictated his actions that day: peace for future generations, personal faith and emotional and physical well-being. Getting even with people is not going to achieve or promote peace for the future and is not in harmony with his faith, which teaches forgiveness and reconciliation – not revenge and retaliation. In addition, Sebarezi recognized that holding on to anger isn’t healthy. Mercy is something that everyone can work on; it is something that aids in the process of reconciliation, which Sebarenzi attributes to saving his life.

“The genocide was horrible,” he said. “But we can’t go back and change it. We have a life to live. We have children. We have a country. We have a future.”

Natalie Gibbs (B.A. Public Relations ’16)