Rwanda Genocide Photo Essay

Last month, the photographer Pieter Hugo went to southern Rwanda, two decades after nearly a million people were killed during the country’s genocide, and captured a series of unlikely, almost unthinkable tableaus. In one, a woman rests her hand on the shoulder of the man who killed her father and brothers. In another, a woman poses with a casually reclining man who looted her property and whose father helped murder her husband and children. In many of these photos, there is little evident warmth between the pairs, and yet there they are, together. In each, the perpetrator is a Hutu who was granted pardon by the Tutsi survivor of his crime.

The people who agreed to be photographed are part of a continuing national effort toward reconciliation and worked closely with AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent), a nonprofit organization. In AMI’s program, small groups of Hutus and Tutsis are counseled over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted by the survivor, the perpetrator and his family and friends typically bring a basket of offerings, usually food and sorghum or banana beer. The accord is sealed with song and dance.

The photographs on the following pages are a small selection of a larger body on display — outdoors, in large format — starting this month in The Hague. The series was commissioned by Creative Court, an arts organization based there, as part of “Rwanda 20 Years,” a program exploring the theme of forgiveness. The images will eventually be shown at memorials and churches in Rwanda.

At the photo shoots, Hugo said, the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators varied widely. Some pairs showed up and sat easily together, chatting about village gossip. Others arrived willing to be photographed but unable to go much further. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” Hugo said. “In the photographs, the distance or closeness you see is pretty accurate.”

In interviews conducted by AMI and Creative Court for the project, the subjects spoke of the pardoning process as an important step toward improving their lives. “These people can’t go anywhere else — they have to make peace,” Hugo explained. “Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.” Yet the practical necessity of reconciliation does not detract from the emotional strength required of these Rwandans to forge it — or to be photographed, for that matter, side by side.

Sinzikiramuka, Perpetrator (opening image, left): “I asked him for forgiveness because his brother was killed in my presence. He asked me why I pleaded guilty, and I replied that I did it as someone who witnessed this crime but who was unable to save anybody. It was the order from authorities. I let him know who the killers were, and the killers also asked him for pardon.”

Karorero, Survivor: “Sometimes justice does not give someone a satisfactory answer — cases are subject to corruption. But when it comes to forgiveness willingly granted, one is satisfied once and for all. When someone is full of anger, he can lose his mind. But when I granted forgiveness, I felt my mind at rest.”

In memoriam: 20 years since the Rwandan genocide

Emma Patti Harris0 CommentWorldanniversary, genocide, memorial, Rwanda

22 Photos

***WARNING: CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC IMAGES.***
On April 7, 2014 Rwanda will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the genocidal slaughter during which more than 800,000 people died over 100 days in 1994. Investigations have shown the country’s leaders from the majority Hutu ethnic group planned and used militias to execute those from the Tutsi ethnic group.

Rwandan worshippers attend the Evangelical Restoration Church, Kimisagara, one day ahead of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in the Rwandan capital Kigali April 6, 2014. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)
Worshippers attend a service at the Saint-Famille Catholic Church, one day ahead of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in the Rwandan capital Kigali April 6, 2014. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)
Dressed in traditional gowns, women line up before marching to commemorate the genocide of 1994 at the Kicukiro College of Technology football pitch April 5, 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. On April 11, 1994, Belgian paratroopersm, who were part of the UNAMIR mission, were ordered to leave the school grounds, abandoning the people to the national police and Interahamwe militia, who lead their victims to a garbage dump and slaughtered them. Rwanda is preparing to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the country’s 1994 genocide, when more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus were slaughtered over a 100 day period. ( Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This photo taken on March 12, 2014, shows a cross hanging near a window at the Nyamata Church Genocide memorial in Nyamata, Rwanda. Nyamata and the surrounding area suffered some of the worst violence during the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, with thousands of people killed in and around the church, which now stands as a memorial to the genocide. A survey showed that 26 percent of the Rwandan population suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, yet the country lacks the adequate mental health facilities needed to address this issue. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)
A visitor reads information about children who were killed during the 1994 genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre April 5, 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda is preparing to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the country’s 1994 genocide, when more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus were slaughtered over a 100 day period. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rwandan people sit inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum as the country prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in the Rwandan capital Kigali April 5, 2014. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)

A visitor looks a large picture of children victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide on April 4, 2014 at the Genocide memorial in Nyamata, inside the Catholic church where thousands were slaughtered during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Twenty years after the genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, the massacres of Hutu civilians who fled across the border into the DR Congo remain a taboo subject in Kigali.(Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)
Photographs of people who were killed during the 1994 genocide are seen inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum as the country prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in the Rwandan capital Kigali April 5, 2014. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)
Visitors look at images documented from the killings of the 1994 genocide inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum as the country prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in the Rwandan capital Kigali April 5, 2014. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)

A window blasted open with a grenade lights caskets holding the remains of many victims as their blood-stained clothing hangs from the rafters inside the Ntarama Catholic Church memorial ahead of the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide April 4, 2014 in Nyamata, Rwanda. Attackers used grenades to blast their way inside the church on April 14 and 15, 1994 where 5,000 people had taken refuge, killing men, women and children. The church was turned into a memorial site and contains the remains of those who were massacred, the majority of them Tutsi, inside the church itself. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
This photo taken on March 12, 2014, shows the clothes of victims killed during the Rwandan genocide laid out in the Nyamata Church in Nyamata, Rwanda. Nyamata and the surrounding area suffered some of the worst violence during the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, with thousands of people killed in and around the church, which now stands as a memorial to the genocide. A survey showed that 26 percent of the Rwandan population suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, yet the country lacks the adequate mental health facilities needed to address this issue. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)
A genocide victim’s government issued identification card is displayed on top of victims’ clothing inside the Ntarama Catholic Church genocide memorial where more than 5,000 people were killed during the 1994 genocide April 4, 2014 in Nyamata, Rwanda. Attackers used grenades to blast their way inside the church on April 15 and 16, 1994 where thousands of people had taken refuge, killing men women and children. The memorial contains the remains of genocide victims from the area, the majority of them Tutsi, including those who were massacred inside the church itself. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Showing signs of extreme trauma, victims’ skeletal remains are displayed on metal racks inside the Ntarama Catholic Church genocide memorial ahead of the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide April 4, 2014 in Nyamata, Rwanda. Attackers used grenades to blast their way inside the church on April 14 and 15, 1994 where 5,000 people had taken refuge, killing men, women and children. The church was turned into a memorial site and contains the remains, the majority of them Tutsi, of those who were massacred inside the church itself. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Mudahogora Ernestine, 34, poses for photographs outside her home in the suburbs of the Rwandan capital Kigali April 3, 2014. Ernestine is the sole survivor in her family of seven who survived the mass killings in the 1994 genocide that left her with visible injuries on her neck, hands and other parts of her body. The three-month killing spree in 1994 by Hutu extremists targeted ethnic Tutsis, but moderate Hutus were also caught in the wave of violence that followed the fatal downing of a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. The massacre killed 800,000 people. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)
The recently discovered remains of a genocide victim lay on a banner outside the Nyamata Catholic Church memorial ahead of the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide April 4, 2014 in Nyamata, Rwanda. Attackers used guns and grenades to blast their way inside the church on April 13, 1994 where thousands of people had taken refuge, killing men women and children. These remains will be added to the memorial’s crypts, which contain over 45,000 genocide victims, the majority of them Tutsi, including those who were massacred inside the church itself. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This picture taken on June 6, 1994 shows a Rwandan child crying as it sits in the dirt in a refugee camp in Ruhango, some 50 km from the Rwandan capital Kigali. On April 7, 2014 Rwanda will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the genocidal slaughter. More than 800,000 people died over 100 days in a 1994 genocide that investigations have shown the country’s leaders from the majority Hutu ethnic group planned and used militias to execute. (Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)
A Rwandan woman collapses with her baby on her back alongside the road connecting Kibumba refugee camp and Goma in this July 28, 1994 file photo. April 7, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide which killed 800,000 people. The three-month killing spree in 1994 by Hutu extremists targeted ethnic Tutsis, but moderate Hutus were also caught in the wave of violence that followed the fatal downing of a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. (Ulli Michel)
Prisoners’ work tools are layed by the side of the road at the Nyanza Prison April 3, 2014 in Nyanza, Rwanda. Of the 6567 prisoners kept at the correctional facility, 5827 of them were convicted of participating in or leading the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where Hutu extremists killed more than 800,000 while attempting to wipe out the Tutsi people. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A Rwandan boy covers his face from the stench of dead bodies in this July 19, 1994 file photo. April 7, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide which killed 800,000 people. The three-month killing spree in 1994 by Hutu extremists targeted ethnic Tutsis, but moderate Hutus were also caught in the wave of violence that followed the fatal downing of a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. (Corinne Dufka/Reuters)
A Rwandan boy covers his face from the stench of dead bodies in this July 19, 1994 file photo. April 7, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide which killed 800,000 people. The three-month killing spree in 1994 by Hutu extremists targeted ethnic Tutsis, but moderate Hutus were also caught in the wave of violence that followed the fatal downing of a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. (Corinne Dufka/Reuters)
This picture taken on November 16, 1996 shows tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees arriving in Gisenyi after fleeing the Zairean Mugunga and Sake refugee camps. On April 7, 2014 Rwanda will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the genocidal slaughter. More than 800,000 people died over 100 days in a 1994 genocide that investigations have shown the country’s leaders from the majority Hutu ethnic group planned and used militias to execute. (Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

Rwandan Hutu refugees rest on the side of the road next to the old Mugunga refugee camp near the border town of Goma in this November 16, 1996 file photo. April 7, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide which killed 800,000 people. The three-month killing spree in 1994 by Hutu extremists targeted ethnic Tutsis, but moderate Hutus were also caught in the wave of violence that followed the fatal downing of a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. (Reuters)
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