In the basement below the church, which today stands as a memorial to the 1994 genocide, the skulls of unidentified Tutsi men are suspended above the coffin of a woman from the same ethnic group who died following an act of barbaric sexual violence.
The attackers attacked churches like this one, on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali. More than 10,000 people died here over two days, according to the memorial’s director, Rachel Murekatete. A mass grave behind the building is the final resting place for more than 45,000 people from the surrounding area who died in the violence.
Prince Charles seemed visibly shaken when shown around the church grounds, where bodies discovered elsewhere are being held even now, 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 for a summit of Commonwealth leaders later this week.
After being shown around the grave site, the 73-year-old royal laid a wreath in honor of the victims buried here. On his card, a note from the royals written in the local Kinyarwanda language: “We will always remember the innocent souls who were killed in the Genocide against the Tutsi in April 1994. Be strong Rwanda. Charles.”
The royals then visited Mbyo Reconciliation Village, one of eight similar villages in Rwanda, where genocide survivors and perpetrators live together. The perpetrators publicly apologize for their crimes, while the survivors profess forgiveness.
The first day of his visit to Rwanda was largely focused on learning more about the massacres of almost 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 currently live in what we call ‘the last stage of genocide,’ which is denial. And to have someone like Prince Charles visiting Rwanda and visiting the memorial… highlights how the country has managed to recover from that terrible past.” said. he told CNN earlier this month during 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 Rwandan President Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame and toured the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum in Gisozi, where a fourth is buried. of a million people.
“This memorial is a place of remembrance, a place where survivors and visitors come and pay their respects to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsi,” says Freddy Mutanguha, director of the site and a survivor of the genocide. “More than 250,000 victims were buried in this memorial and their bodies were collected from different places… and this place [has] become a final destination for our loved ones, our families.
Those families include his own, who once lived in the city of Kibuye in the country’s western province.
Mutanguha told CNN that he heard the attackers murder his parents and siblings during the genocide, saying, “I was hiding but I could hear their voices until they finished. I survived with my sister, but I also lost four sisters.”
Keeping his 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 being where we buried our family, my mother is down here in one of the mass graves, it is a home for me, but also [it’s] a place where I work and I feel that responsibility. As a survivor I have to speak up, I have to tell the truth about what happened to my family, my country and the Tutsi people,” he continues.
Mutanguha was eager to welcome Prince Charles to learn more about what happened here and help counter the growing online threat of genocide deniers, which he compares to holocaust denial.
“That’s what really worries me because when the Holocaust happened, people didn’t learn from the past. When the genocide against the Tutsi happened, you can see those who deny the genocide … mainly those who committed genocide, they feel they can do it again because they didn’t finish the job. So me telling the story, working here and having visitors, we can probably make ‘never again’ a reality.”
A Clarence House spokesman said the royal couple were struck by how important it is to never forget the horrors of the past. “But they were also deeply moved to hear from people who have found ways to live with and even forgive the most heinous crimes,” they added.
Prince Charles arrived in Rwanda on Tuesday night, the first member of the royal family to visit the country. He is in Kigali representing the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
The meeting is usually held every two years, but has been rescheduled twice due to the pandemic. It is the first CHOGM he has attended since he was selected as the organization’s next director at the 2018 meeting.
However, the royal trip to Kigali comes at a somewhat awkward time, as furor has erupted over the UK government’s sweeping plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Britain’s government announced the deal with the East African country in April, however the inaugural flight a week ago was canceled after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.
It was also confirmed that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will attend the Commonwealth leaders’ summit and is expected to meet Prince Charles on Friday morning.
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