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Emery Rutagonya and event attendees, Mosaic Institute, December 9

By Alawia Sherif, Member of the Mosaic Institute’s Student Advisory Committee

Alawia Sherif

On December 9th, 2014, students from the Mosaic Institute’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) hosted a “lunch-and-learn” event entitled “Reconciliation and Forgiveness in Rwanda”. The event, held at the Mosaic Institute’s offices, featured Rwandan genocide survivor and peace advocate Emery Rutagonya as the main speaker. The session was part of the “UofMosaic Talks Peace: In the Aftermath of War” series.

Emery focused the first part of his talk on his own experience surviving the genocide in 1994 and the subsequent, slow process of learning to forgive the perpetrators. He recounted the brutality, horror, and profound loss that overtook his home city of Kigali and claimed the lives of almost everyone he knew. He shared that, for many years following the genocide, he grappled with feelings of guilt, and would often question why he alone survived while most of his family was killed.

Emery also could also not understand how he could forgive people who had committed such horrific acts, and did not feel he had the right to forgive in the name of those who had been killed. It took Emery almost a decade to realize that feelings of resentment and anger would lead him nowhere. That realization finally brought him to the point of deciding to forgive as an act of his own will. That decision, in turn, liberated his heart and led him to become a peace educator and advocate.

In the second half of his talk, Emery addressed the many issues surrounding the question of how to foster systemic reconciliation in Rwanda after the genocide. He argued that reconciliation is not about forgetting about what happened, but rather about sharing difficult truths, offering meaningful forms of justice, and providing platforms for the sharing and legitimization of multiple narratives about the issues that led to the genocide in the first place. For him, true reconciliation –which has yet to be achieved- requires the political will of all Rwandans, including the ruling elites, and is just as important to the future of the country as its economic development. According to Emery, understanding the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation is essential, particularly for people working in the fields of peace education and conflict resolution.

This event was a much-needed opportunity for students with connections to other conflicts overseas to learn about the Rwandan experience and reflect on the ways in which conflict has affected their own communities. For instance, participating students with personal and family connections to the Sri Lankan civil war were able to draw parallels between the conflicts in the two countries, and to begin thinking of ways in which the respective diaspora communities in Canada could learn from and support one another.

“Reconciliation and Forgiveness in Rwanda” was presented as part of the Mosaic Institute’s UofMosaic program. The UofMosaic is the Mosaic Institute’s innovative peace building and leadership development program for university students across Canada. The program delivers programming at Ryerson University, York University, the University of Toronto, Concordia University, McGill University, and Simon Fraser University. UofMosaic is made possible by the generous financial support of BMO Financial Group. For more information, please contact Program Manager Jothi Shanmugam at js@mosaicinstitute.ca

Young Peace Perspectives is a platform curated by the Mosaic Institute to highlight the experiences of young people in Canada who are working for peace, both in their communities and abroad.

Edited by Lorenzo Vargas (@LorenzoVargasM) and John Monahan