Prince Charles meets genocide survivors in Rwanda

In 1994 Hutu extremists came in Rwanda targeting ethnic minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a three-month massacre that killed an estimated 800,000 people, although local estimates are higher.

In the basement below the church—now a memorial to the 1994 genocide—the skulls of unidentified Tutsi men hang over the coffin of a woman of the same ethnic group who died in an act of barbaric sexual violence.

Attackers targeted churches like this one on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali. More than 10,000 people were murdered here in two days, according to the monument’s manager, Rachel Murekatete. A mass grave behind the building is the final resting place of more than 45,000 people from the area who died in the violence.

Prince Charles appeared visibly moved as he was shown around the church grounds, where bodies even now found elsewhere are brought as former attackers identify other graves as part of the reconciliation process that began in 1999.

The heir to the British throne is in Rwanda later this week for a summit of Commonwealth leaders.

After the grave was shown, the 73-year-old royal laid a wreath in honor of the victims buried here. On the card is a note from the royal family written in the local Kinyarwanda language: “We will always remember the innocent souls who were killed in the genocide of the Tutsi in April 1994. Be strong Rwanda. Charles”

The royal family then visited the reconciliation village of Mbyo, one of eight similar villages in Rwanda, where survivors and perpetrators of the genocide live side by side. The perpetrators publicly apologize for their crimes, while the survivors profess forgiveness.

Prince Charles examines the skulls of victims of the massacre.
Prince Charles meets a genocide victim in the reconciliation village of Mybo.

The first day of his visit to Rwanda was heavily focused on learning more about the massacres of nearly three decades ago. Rwandan footballer and genocide survivor Eric Murangwa had encouraged the prince to include Nyamata during his three-day visit to the country.

“We are currently living in what we call ‘the final stage of genocide’, which is denial. And the fact that someone like Prince Charles visits Rwanda and visits the memorial… highlights how the country has managed to recover from that terrible past “, he said. told CNN earlier this month at a reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the contributions of people from across the Commonwealth.

Earlier Wednesday, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, met the president of Rwanda, Kagame and first lady Jeannette Kagame, and visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial and museum in Gisozi, where a quarter of a million people are buried.

“This memorial is a place of remembrance, a place where survivors and visitors come to pay respects to the victims of genocide against Tutsi,” said Freddy Mutanguha, the site director and a genocide survivor himself. “More than 250,000 victims were buried in this monument and their bodies were collected in various places … and this place [has] become a final destination for our loved ones, our families.”

Genocide survivor Freddy Mutanguha, director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum.

Those families include his, who once lived in the city of Kibuye in the western province of the country.

Mutanguha told CNN he heard attackers killed his parents and siblings during the genocide, saying, “I was in hiding, but I could hear their voices until they were done. I survived with my sister, but I also lost four sisters.”

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Keeping their memory alive is now what drives his mission at the memorial.

“This is a very important place for me as a survivor because in addition to burying our family, my mother is down here in one of the mass graves, it’s a home to me, but also [it’s] a place where I work and feel that responsibility. As a survivor, I have to speak out, I have to tell the truth about what happened to my family, my country and the Tutsi people,” he continues.

Tombs at the Kigali Memorial to Victims of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visits the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Mutanguha was eager to welcome Prince Charles to learn more about what happened here and to counter a growing online threat from genocide deniers, whom he equates to Holocaust denial.

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“That’s what actually worries me, because when the Holocaust happened, people weren’t learning from the past. When the genocide of Tutsi happened, you can see the genocide deniers … especially those who committed genocide — they feel that they can do it again because they didn’t get the job done. So if I tell the story, get work here and get visitors, we probably can ‘never again’ make it happen.”

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A Clarence House spokesperson said the royal couple were struck by the importance of never forgetting the horrors of the past. “But they were also deeply moved when they listened to people who have found a way to live with and even forgive the most horrific crimes,” they added.

Prince Charles arrived in Rwanda on Tuesday evening, the first member of the royal family to visit the country. He is in Kigali to represent the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

The meeting is usually held every two years, but was moved twice due to the pandemic. It is the first CHOGM he attends since being selected as the next head of the organization at the 2018 meeting.

The royal trip to Kigali comes at a somewhat inconvenient time, however, as there has been a furore in the homeland over the British government’s radical plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The British government announced the deal with the East African country in April, but the first flight a week ago was grounded after an 11-hour intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been confirmed to attend the summit of Commonwealth leaders and is expected to meet Prince Charles on Friday morning.

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