Linking genocide prisoners with their victims’ families to foster reconciliation and resilience in Rwanda

Linking prisoners with those they offended – before their release - especially those who committed heinous crimes, like genocide or murder, should be an integral part of the prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration process. This facilitates a smoother and more effective reentry of prisoners into their families and community.

This step is relevant and a necessity in Rwanda, as approximately 20,000 prisoners convicted of genocide crimes perpetrated during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, including masterminds, are expected to be released in the coming years. In addition, many genocide convicts have already been released, integrated into their communities, and live alongside Genocide survivors.  

In March 2024, Interpeace, together with its local partners Dignity in Detention and the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS), organised a unique event to reconnect 19 female prisoners detained in Nyamagabe Prison, Southern Province of Rwanda, with families of their victims and the broader community to seek forgiveness. The event took place in Nyamasheke District, Western Province, where they committed their crimes. 

“I am standing before you today to ask for forgiveness for crimes I committed during the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. I killed my neighbours and friends. I acknowledge my crimes and humble myself before all of you, especially Genocide survivors,” implored Martha Mukamushinzimana, a 55 years old mother of five.

Mukamushinzimana participated in the killing of the Tutsi who sought refuge in the Nyamasheke Catholic Parish located in her neighbourhood and, in 2009, was sentenced to 15 years in jail by a Gacaca Traditional Court. Yet, her children didn’t know the reason for her imprisonment. “I have been a worse mother.  I take this opportunity to apologise to my children. I behaved like a coward and felt ashamed to tell them the truth about my crimes,” said Mukamushinzimana who will be released in one month. She added, “I have been transformed; I am a new person now. I feel ready to come back and live in harmony with you and build our country together”.

One by one, the 19 women prisoners came forward to recount their crimes in front of genocide survivors, their own family members, local authorities, and other community members who came to witness. Their crimes ranged from killing the Tutsis, bringing stones used to kill, and luring victims to their homes under the guise of protection only to kill them. They took accountability for their actions and humbled themselves before community members.     

Reconnecting prisoners with those they offended is part of Interpeace’s approach to psychological prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration, implemented in line with its Societal Healing programme in Rwanda. This programme fosters social cohesion and reconciliation and promotes psychological and economic resilience. Priority is given to those nearing release.

As Interpeace’s research studies have shown, during their incarceration, prisoners experience mental health distress resulting from the atrocities they committed and their life in prison, which constitute a stumbling block to their effective rehabilitation. The Societal Healing Programme established Sociotherapy healing spaces in prisons to provide inmates with psychosocial support care in a group setting. For three and a half months, weekly Sociotherapy sessions equip them with life skills to cope with their mental problems and take a new life orientation.

During the healing process, many voluntarily express their willingness to be reconciled with their victims’ families and the community. This is facilitated through reconciliation events, like the one in Nyamasheke, which was organised after thorough preparation of the concerned community members. Sociotherapy healing spaces play a catalytic role in shifting prisoners’ mindsets to become repentant individuals who accept responsibility for their acts and feel ready to live with others in society.

“Before attending a Sociotherpay healing space, I had no willingness to confess my crimes. I was convinced that I was innocent and falsely imprisoned. Sociotherapy enabled me to reflect on myself and my misdeeds. I realised I had killed my friends and neighbours and hurt their families and my community. From the bottom of my heart, I humbly ask Genocide Survivors for forgiveness,” confessed Agatha Nyirahabimana, 70 years old.

The families of the victims accepted their apologies without resentment. Saverina Utetiwabo, a Genocide survivor, forgave Mukamushinzimana. They had been close friends since childhood and were members of the Association des Eglises de Pentecote au Rwanda (ADEPR) church choir.  However, Utetiwabo didn’t know her friend was a “genocidaire” who participated in the killing of her family members. “Learning about it was a total shock for me, and I immediately cut ties with her because I didn’t want to live with a criminal. Now that she has publicly confessed, I forgive her. I feel relieved and ready to renew our relationship,” she said.   

Rwanda’s societal fabric is still fragile following the tremendous consequences of the genocide. Unprepared released prisoners are likely to cause tensions, trauma, and anxiety among families of genocide survivors and the community, posing a serious threat to reconciliation and resilience gains achieved. Providing prisoners nearing release with psychosocial support, coupled with community preparation, helps address these challenges and lays a solid foundation for a more reconciled, peaceful, and resilient society.

“In the past, we used to see genocide prisoners being released without our knowledge, and that caused fear and anxiety. We would call in panic authorities or security organs to alert them, as we thought released ‘genocidaire’ could kill us too. I am happy they came here to interact with us before their release,” said Utetiwamo.

Speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary of Western Province and the representative of Ibuka, an umbrella organisation of genocide survivors’ associations, commended the process's importance in truth-telling and fostering reconciliation and resilience.   

A young changemaker's crusade for women’s involvement in governance


Yassin Nimubona, a young visionary from Muyinga province, Burundi, is leading a cause that aligns with the nation’s goals - enhancing women’s involvement in governance and decision-making. Although Burundi has adopted international instruments and national policies to promote gender equality, the number of women in leadership roles remains low. As Burundi aims to be an emerging country by 2040 and a developed one by 2060, the necessity to tap into the potential of women, who make up more than half of the population, is urgent.

Yassin, who heads the social affairs department in the Muslim Community of Muyinga province and is responsible for recruiting new members and providing ethics training within the National Council for the Defense of Democracy—Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party, set out on a path that would reshape his views on gender roles and ignite a passion for advocating for women's rights.

The turning point in Yassin's journey came in September 2023, when he attended an awareness-raising training course on "Citizen participation, good governance, leadership and positive masculinity". This course, offered by the Synergies for Peace III project (SfP III), aimed to foster inclusive and collaborative livelihood and social cohesion initiatives. Reflecting on his past mindset, he admitted, "Before the training, I thought that women were incapable of managing important affairs, that they could only take care of household chores. This conception was nurtured in me by the practices of my religion, which does not emphasise women's participation in governance." However, the training on positive masculinity sparked a profound change in Yassin, as he revealed, "I began to give more consideration to my wife and to all women in general.

Empowered by this newfound perspective, Yassin started promoting women's involvement in decision-making. He advocated for the appointment of women at the nursery school where he works and spearheaded efforts to include women in decision-making positions at the communal level in Muyinga province. Yassin established two groups, "Mukenyezi Girijambo" and "Terimbere Bibondo," with 40 and 35 members, respectively, comprising both women and men but with a majority of women. These groups aimed to provide a platform for raising awareness and coaching women to ensure their effective participation in governance.

Yassin's commitment to gender equality was reflected in the groups' organisational structure, as he emphasises, "Each group's committee is made up of seven people, with four being women, and the chairman must be a woman, as stipulated in the code of conduct."

Yassin's initiatives have had a profound impact on the residents of the Kiswahili district of Muyinga. His efforts have empowered women, making them more aware of their rights and inspiring some to pursue decision-making roles.  Safia Miburo, secretary of the "Terimbere Bibondo" group, shared her experience: "I was already intrigued by the fact that it's always men who head our hills, but I did not know that the law also grants this right to women! Now, thanks to Yassin's teachings informing us that women have the same rights and duties as men when it comes to governance, I felt challenged to get myself elected in the next hill elections to carry the women's voice far and wide."

Yassin's efforts also challenged traditional gender norms and influenced men's perceptions of women's roles in decision-making. Jumapili Gahungu, an area manager and group member, observed, "Yassin's teachings have already borne fruit. Only men were in leadership positions, but now there are women in these groups vying for posts of hill leader and other decision-making positions."

As Burundi prepares for legislative elections in 2025, initiatives like the one launched by Yassin Nimubona are vital in promoting gender equality and women's participation in governance. His commitment to advancing this cause demonstrated the influence of education and advocacy in challenging gender disparities and fostering inclusive societies. Yassin emphasises the importance of women's contributions: "The role of Burundian women is essential for our community's development, considering their majority representation in the Burundian population."

In the Muyinga province, a young changemaker's crusade for gender equality is gaining momentum. It is inspiring a generation to embrace the principles of inclusive governance and paving the way for a future where women's voices are reinforced and their leadership potential is realised.

One woman's resolve to promote women in decision-making roles


Adelaïde Uwimana’s efforts to advocate for women in decision-making roles and protect their interests have led to a significant shift in a community that previously lacked female leadership. Over the past year, her journey in the Kavumu district, situated in the Kamenge zone of Bujumbura Mairie, Burundi, has reshaped governance dynamics. It has also stimulated initiatives to tackle the prevalent problem of violence against women.

Like many parts of Burundi, Kamenge bore the scars of the 1993-2003 civil war, intensified existing challenges and leaving its women vulnerable to various forms of violence and systemic exclusion. Women in the community faced barriers to participation in decision-making processes and experienced high rates of domestic violence. Adelaïde's efforts aimed to dismantle these obstacles by promoting women's leadership, mediating conflicts between couples, and encouraging women's participation in economic activities – recognising financial independence as a crucial step towards broader societal transformation.

Appointed as the chief of the Kavumu district in 2010, Adelaïde's path took a turn when she joined the Synergy for Peace III project (SfP III) Bujumbura women's platform in March 2023. Empowered by Jimbere Magazine's Inkingi programme, a radio show focused on topics like female leadership, she overcame her initial hesitations and embraced her role as a leader. "I've realised that my voice can have a greater impact, especially by involving more other women committed to a kind of synergy within the community," she affirmed, determined to deconstruct gender stereotypes and combat violence against women.

In January 2023, Adelaïde took a decisive step by appointing four women as cell leaders – a historic moment for the community. These leaders met regularly to discuss how to promote women's interests, encourage one another, exchange experiences, and explore matters of responsible leadership. Some meetings were supported by the SfP III project through Inkingi broadcasts, while others were initiated independently.

Solange Ndimurukundo, one of the appointed leaders, is determined to drive change in Kavumu. She embarked on a mission to sensitise other women on the importance of active participation in local governance and community development initiatives. Together with Adelaïde and the other women leaders, she contributed to the fight against gender-based violence through mediation initiatives for couples.

The impact of female leadership in Kamenge soon became evident, with a notable decrease in reported cases of domestic violence – a transformation acknowledged by other leaders in the area. According to Adelaïde, the presence of women in decision-making positions instilled a sense of trust among survivors, who felt more comfortable confiding in fellow women. "The successful cases we handle on a daily basis motivate others to come to us and ask for our intervention," she said, noting that the determination of women in leadership roles prompted perpetrators of domestic violence to question their behaviour.

Women's leadership extended beyond resolving conflicts, fostering economic empowerment and community development. As Adelaïde put it, "This change has enabled us to get on with other development activities because where there is peace, development continues." Jimbere's Inkingi activities, through the Synergy for Peace III project, which seeks to facilitate inclusive and collaborative livelihood and social cohesion initiatives, provided crucial support in consolidating these gains, encouraging women to join cooperatives, borrow capital, and earn a profit for their sustenance – ideas born from testimonials of women entrepreneurs featured on the programme.

Adelaïde Uwimana's journey showcases the potential of female leadership in combating violence against women and fostering societal change. Her commitment to promoting women's empowerment extends beyond immediate outcomes, envisioning a future where women's leadership becomes synonymous with an equitable and resilient society. Investing in women’s leadership is vital as a catalyst for building sustainable peace and development.


Paving the way for inclusive governance in Kasaï


The Inclusive Governance for Peace programme in Kasaï Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), implemented by Action pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC) in partnership with Interpeace, has made significant progress in empowering women's and youth leadership.

For a long time, women in the region have been marginalised and their decision-making authority limited. However, a new era of inclusivity and equality is emerging, providing women with more opportunities and rights.

In 2019, Munda Tshonga Mado, a 47-year-old mother of six, was a homemaker. By 2020, she had become the deputy of the "Mawika" district in Kamonia, Kasaï Province. Her leadership, characterised by democracy, inclusivity, and dedication to peace, has earned her recognition and appreciation in her role as district head.

Since 2021, Mado has been participating in peacebuilding events, including training sessions for community-based organisations. APC and Interpeace organised these sessions, which focused on conflict analysis, positive conflict transformation through mediation and dialogue. Women like Mado found a platform to reclaim their voices and assert their roles in the public sphere.

Sharing her story, Mado says: "During this time, we attended several training sessions with local authorities. One day, the chief of Kamonia district, Job Kayimbo, approached me to take on the role of chief of the Vatican locality, one of those in his district. Shortly thereafter, a conflict arose between the incumbent chief of the Mawika district and his deputy. Faced with the difficulty of reconciling them, the mayor of the rural commune of Kamonia, who also appreciated my work, appointed me as chief of the Mawika district, consisting of five localities."

Mado's appointment as the chief of the Mawika district, a position previously considered unattainable for women, shattered stereotypes and highlighted the potential of women to lead in traditionally male-dominated fields. She actively participated in peacebuilding activities for the project "Renforcer la gouvernance pour la paix en République démocratique du Congo," funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

In 2022, Mado's journey took a significant step forward with the launch of APC's project aimed at enhancing women's leadership. She actively participated in workshops and training sessions along with her peers. These sessions covered various topics including women's leadership, UN Resolutions 1325 and 2325, and the factors that contribute to women's exclusion from decision-making processes. As a result of these efforts, a positive shift in attitudes occurred, with male participants now advocating for women's inclusion in positions of authority within peace mechanisms and political arenas.

During a workshop on peace governance in November 2023, Clément Yaudiko, the President of Civil Society in Kamonia, expressed his support for Mado's development initiatives. However, Yaudiko also emphasised the importance of addressing cultural barriers that hinder the empowerment of women and the progress of young people in the Kasai area.

Mado faced discrimination from male politicians, leading to a limited number of votes cast against her in the 2023 election. Undeterred, she maintained her resolve and decided to contest as a national deputy for her party, the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC), in the Kamonia electoral district. Despite falling short of a majority in votes, Mado persisted and showcased her dedication to the political arena by actively pursuing mentorship opportunities.

Her journey reached its pinnacle when she was elected as the president of l’Union des Jeunes pour le Développement Intégral de Kamonia (UJDIK), showcasing her ability to mobilise at the grassroots level and effectively engage with the community. At present, Mado collaborates with local leaders, providing mentoring and guidance.

Mado's journey serves as a reminder of the importance of gender equality and women's empowerment in Kasaï. It advocates for inclusive governance in peace-related matters and highlights the province's untapped potential to fully utilise the capabilities of its women. This paves the way for a future where women can lead with confidence and conviction.

Saoudata and "peace circles" help women in Burkina Faso

Saoudata Ouedraogo is a woman who is very committed to her community, and who is spearheading an initiative to strengthen women's resilience and their contribution to peace in the commune of Kaya.

"I am Madame Ouedraogo Saoudata, president of the women leader's network for tolerance and peace in the North-Center region, and also regional coordinator of the women of the North-Center region.

Since the beginning of the crisis, I have seen a real need to work with women on issues of tolerance, living together, social cohesion and peace in my commune. Indeed, the displacement of populations creates discomfort and requires a great deal of adaptation on the part of both the displaced and the host populations. That's why I decided to work in particular with internally displaced women by setting up "Peace Circles" with 50 women, so that they can cultivate the spirit of resilience and peace for a better way of living together in the host areas.

The implementation of the "Improving conflict prevention and security governance in Burkina Faso" project has been an essential and vital contribution to the continuation of my work with women victims of the country's security situation. Indeed, thanks to this project on security governance, I benefited from training on the Peace Circles tool and conflict transformation.

Following the training, I had a better understanding and knowledge of the "conflict sensitivity and proactivity for peace" dimension. I therefore decided to share this capacity-building initiative with 50 other women from the host community.”

This initiative thus enabled the 100 internally displaced women and women from the host community to mix. This helped them to carry out income-generating activities (IGAs) in harmony with each other, so as to contribute to the costs of their households and live with more or less dignity.

Saoudata Ouedraogo's action, praised by her community, has helped reduce latent tensions and has improved the living conditions of these women.

The project was implemented by Interpeace, with funding and technical support from the Canadian government through the Stabilization and Peace Operations Program (SPOPs). Its aim was to improve the level of security in the target regions of Sahel, East, Centre-North and Boucle de Mouhoun in Burkina Faso, through the involvement of women in particular, as part of a peacebuilding approach.

Strengthening women’s livelihoods for peace in Kasaï

The Kasaï region, once an oasis of peace, has experienced a deteriorating security situation in recent years due to a highly violent conflict of customary origin in the Bajila Kasanga village within the Dibaya territory, Kasaï-Central province, one of the 15 new provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Emerging in 2016 from Jean Prince Mpandi’s demand for legal recognition of his authority by state authorities, this conflict led to the rise of the “Kamwina Nsapu” militias, who spread terror across the entire Kasaï-Central province initially, and later throughout the five provinces of the Kasaï region, commonly referred to as the “Grand Kasaï.”

This conflict resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the region, marked by numerous loss of lives, looting, destruction of basic infrastructure, and massive population displacements, significantly hindering local, provincial, and regional development. A crisis of trust exacerbated tensions between community members and between populations and state institutions, threatening reconciliation and reconstruction efforts due to lingering wounds.

Thérèse MBELU, one of the women traumatised by the atrocities of the “Kamuina Nsapu” phenomenon, shares her story:

"I lived in Tshikula, in the Dibaya territory, the epicentre of the ‘Kamuina Nsapu’ phenomenon. I was staying with my sister-in-law, whose husband lived in Kananga. The militiamen stormed our home and beheaded my sister-in-law right before her eyes. Then, they tied my father-in-law to a tree and executed him. These two events profoundly affected me. I began experiencing hypertension and gastritis attacks whenever these memories resurfaced. Physically weakened and inconsolable, life seemed meaningless; I was utterly desperate. In addition to my eight children, I took on the responsibility of caring for my sister-in-law’s orphans.

In October 2022, a national non-governmental organisation (NGO) called “Travail et droits de l’homme” (Work and Human Rights), working in partnership with Interpeace and with the financial support from Peace Building Fund in DR Congo (PBF-DRC), conducted a mission to identify cases of women traumatised by the “Kamuina Nsapu” conflict in Tshikula. Jean Marie Kajibwe, the president of the permanent dialogue group (GDP) in Dibataye, who was aware of my situation, invited me to participate in this gathering where several other women were also present. After attending the sessions, each of us individually shared her story. I was referred to the chief medical officer at Tshikula Hospital, who listened to my account and recommended me to a psychosocial assistant. This assistant began providing me with regular guidance and support. Over time, these interactions greatly comforted me, and I gradually came to realise that it was not the end of the world.

In March 2023, the TDH team returned to Tshikula and asked each of us about her desired career paths among three options: tailoring, soap making, and pastry. Personally, I chose soap making because I had worked in it once before, although with limited success. Our soap making group consisted of 30 learners, under the guidance of Madame Esther, for a duration of two months. During this time, we acquired new skills and practical knowledge. These sessions also provided us with an opportunity to share our painful experiences and find solace in one another. Since then, these memories haunt me less frequently, and my health has improved.

Currently, I have improved the quality of the soaps I produce, and they are well-received by everyone. However, I am limited by resources. I sell my soaps at the markets in Tshikula and Nkufula. Every two weeks, I use three kilogrammes of caustic soda, six measures of oil, and three measures of water to produce 180 soaps. Each soap is sold for 500 Congolese francs ($0.18). With my modest capital of 60,000 FC ($22), I earn a profit of 30,000 FC ($11) from each production cycle, allowing me to cover my children’s school fees and support my two orphans.”

Therese Mbelu expresses heartfelt gratitude for the initiative taken by Interpeace, in collaboration with its partner “Travail et droits de l’homme,” to restore hope and life to women traumatised by the effects of the “Kamuina Nsapu” conflict. She testified that, at the beginning of the training, each woman was withdrawn and introspective. However, as they interacted with one another, they learned to share their experiences, find solace, and gradually rediscover the joy of living. These women have come together to form A Village Savings and Credit Association (AVEC), where they gather every Sunday. Despite facing challenges due to their vulnerability, they remain confident in themselves, hoping that any assistance in income-generating activities would enable them to work harder, improve their economic situation, and save within their AVEC.