Pieter Hugo’s photo series entitled Portraits of Reconciliation, powerfully documents the ongoing process of healing that has followed the Rwandan genocide. In the photos, Hutu perpetrators of genocide stand next to the Tutsi survivor of their crime who has granted them pardon. Below each photograph is a quote from both perpetrator and survivor explaining their role in the genocide and in the reconciliation process currently underway. The following is one example: Dominique Ndahimana (perpetrator): “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”
Cansilde Munganyinka (survivor): “After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”
This is just one of many examples which are documented in the series. What is most striking about this project—besides the images of victim and perpetrator standing together with some even holding hands—is the theme of forgiveness and healing. Contrasting our own justice system in the U.S for a moment, victims rarely receive the kind of justice documented here. For example, the victims of genocide were empowered with the decision to grant their perpetrators pardon. As the quote above illustrates, it was the victim who identified the harm that required repair, and it was up to the perpetrator to follow through with the difficult task of attending to the needs of his victim. Forgiveness was a major part of this process, but it was conceptualized differently by each participant. Some victims remained close to those who had perpetrated violence against them following the reconciliation process while others chose to grant pardon, and nothing else. The survivors’ testimonies reveal that when a harm is acknowledged in full, requiring complete honesty on the part of the perpetrator to take full responsibility for their actions, healing and reparation can take place.
The bravery and strength displayed by the survivors in the Rwandan reconciliation process is admirable and inspirational. It is imperative that those involved in criminal justice reform activities explore what this work means for us in the U.S as we struggle to develop effective ways of reducing recidivism and meaningful ways of addressing the needs of victims.
Pieter Hugo’s work can be found, here.