Jean-Baptiste Ntakirutimana is a Tutsi whose family were murdered in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. In April 2008 he met the man who killed his mother.
On April 5th, 2008 at 10am, I went to the new prison prepared for inmates from the UN International Tribunal for Rwanda. Mr Turikunkiko – a man now in his fifties – had been transferred to Mpanga prison and was serving a 28 year sentence. From the moment he came in he was trembling and afraid to look me in the eyes. My heart was beating twice as fast as normal. I was fortunate to have taken along a friend, Joseph Nyamutera, who had agreed to mediate and be there as a support should either one of us have a particular emotional problem. We met for three hours.
Joseph started by explaining the reason for our visit: that I had come as a way of trying to learn about what happened to my family and to initiate my own healing process, while offering Mr Turikunkiko an opportunity to initiate his own healing and relief from the memories he had been carrying with him for 14 years.
I inquired first about his life in prison, his family and his state of mind. He told us that he was living very miserably, and that since October 2007, the time of his transfer to the Mpanga prison, he had not received any visitors. He felt disowned and abandoned by his wife and children.
He continued telling us how the killings started, about the people who died from April 7th 1994 onwards and how my people were put in a regional stadium and slaughtered. He added that no one had dared to kill my mother, so she was brought back to her home village by two militia men where they called for others to come forward and kill her. Still no one wanted to do this, until finally Mr Turikunkiko volunteered. He told us that no one was allowed to loot from Tutsis before killing all family members and since they thought I had already been killed in Kigali, the only hindrance to taking all the family property was my mum. So she had to be killed.
When he started explaining how he killed her, I partly lost consciousness and Joseph carried on the conversation with him. I prayed to God to revive me and give me more strength to continue, as I felt this was my mission. Miraculously I then felt warmth spread from my head to my feet. I felt a big rock melting from my chest and head. I felt very refreshed. I cleaned up my tears and carried on the conversation, feeling tremendously relieved throughout my whole being.
I then asked Mr Turikunkiko whether there was anything he would ask my mum, should she be resurrected and sitting in front of him now. He said he would ask for money and for her to come to visit him, as she was a very good person. He cried for most of the time. I believe this came from his state of bare poverty and total abandonment and isolation. In my view his tears were coming from his guilt having killed a person who did nothing but good to him. I then told him that since I had personally been forgiven for all my wrongs, I was coming to him in the same spirit of forgiveness. It was as if a huge veil lifted from his face; he started smiling, full of words of gratitude. He took hold of my hands, telling me many other things about himself and the truth of what happened during the genocide. He also agreed to meet with other people whose family members he had killed.
Finally, we left him at around 1pm and he sent us off up to the main prison entrance. He was a totally transformed person, as indeed I was, which was the last thing I had expected. I had gone there to help him, but in fact I had got more from the visit than I would ever have personally expected. As I left, it was as if I was carrying only half my weight.