In the basement below the church – which stands today as a memorial to the 1994 genocide – the skulls of unidentified Tutsi men hang over the coffin of a woman from the same ethnic group who died after 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 killed here over the course of two days, according to the memorial’s director, Rachel Mericati. A mass grave behind the building is the final resting place for more than 45,000 people from the surrounding area killed in the violence.
Prince Charles was visibly moved when he was paraded around the church grounds on Wednesday as corpses found elsewhere are being brought in, as former assailants have identified other graves as part of a reconciliation process that began in 1999.
The heir to the British throne is in Rwanda for a summit of Commonwealth leaders later this week. But his trip comes at a critical time as anger erupts over the UK government’s radical plan to send asylum seekers back home to Rwanda.
The British government announced the deal with the East African country in April, but the inaugural flight a week ago was postponed after an 11-hour intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been confirmed to attend the Commonwealth Leaders Summit and is expected to meet Prince Charles on Friday morning.
After showing us the site of the tomb, the 73-year-old king laid a wreath in honor of the victims buried here. On her card, a note from the king written in the local Kinyarwanda language: “We will always remember the innocent lives killed in the genocide against the Tutsis in April 1994. Be strong in Rwanda. Charles.”
The king then visited the reconciliation village of Mbeo, one of eight similar villages in Rwanda, where genocide survivors and perpetrators live side by side. Perpetrators publicly apologize for their crimes, while survivors proclaim forgiveness.
The first day of his visit to Rwanda was largely focused on learning more about the massacres that took place nearly three decades ago. Rwandan footballer and genocide survivor Eric Murangwa encouraged the prince to include Nyama during his three-day visit to the country.
“We are currently living in what we call ‘the final phase of the genocide’ which is denial. And having someone like Prince Charles visit Rwanda and visit the memorial… highlights how the country has been able to recover from that terrible past,” 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 Janet Kagame and visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum in Giuseppe, where a quarter of a million people are buried.
“This memorial is a place of remembrance, a place where survivors and visitors come and pay respects to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsis,” says Freddy Mutanga, site manager and genocide survivor. He added that “more than 250,000 victims were buried in this monument and their bodies were collected in different places … and this place.” [has] To become an ultimate destination for our loved ones and families.”
Among these families is his family who once lived in Kibwe City in the country’s western province.
Mutangoha told CNN he had heard that the attackers had killed his parents and brothers during the genocide, saying, “I was in hiding but I could actually hear their voices until they finished. I survived with my sister, but I also lost four sisters.”
Keeping their memory alive now is what drives his mission at the memorial.
“This is a very important place for me as a survivor because apart from where we buried our family, my mother is here in a mass grave, it is my home, but also [it’s] A place where I work and I feel that responsibility. As a survivor, I must speak frankly, I must tell the truth of what happened to my family, my country and the Tutsi people.”
Mutanga was eager to welcome Prince Charles to learn more about what happened here and help counter the growing online threat from genocide deniers, which he compares to Holocaust denial.
“That really worries me because when the Holocaust happened, people didn’t learn from the past. When the genocide happened against the Tutsis, you can see the genocide deniers… mainly those who committed the genocide – they feel they can repeat it because they haven’t finished the work. So as I tell the story, work here and receive visitors, maybe we can make ‘never again’ a reality.
A Clarence House spokesperson said the royal couple were stunned how important it was not to forget the horrors of the past. “But they were also deeply moved when they listened to people who had found ways to live with and even forgive the most heinous 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 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 meeting he has attended since he was chosen to be the next president of the organization at the 2018 meeting.
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