In the basement of the church – which today stands as a memorial to the 1994 genocide – the skulls of unidentified Tutsi men are hung over the coffin of a woman from the same ethnic group who died after a barbaric sexual act of violence.
Attackers targeted churches like this, on the outskirts of the capital Kigali. More than 10,000 people were killed here over two days, according to memorial leader Rachel Murekatete. A mass grave behind the building is the last resting place for more than 45,000 people from the surrounding area who were killed in the violence.
Prince Charles seemed visibly moved when he was shown around the church grounds, where even now bodies discovered elsewhere are being brought, as former attackers identify other burial sites 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 the burial site, the 73-year-old king laid a wreath in honor of the victims buried here. On the card, a note from the king written in the local Kinyarwanda language: “We will always remember the innocent souls who were killed in the genocide against the Tutsis in April 1994. Be strong Rwanda. Charles”
The royal then visited Mbyo Reconciliation Village, 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 survivors confess forgiveness.
The first day of his visit to Rwanda was strongly focused on learning more about the massacres almost three decades ago. Rwandan footballer and genocide survivor Eric Murangwa had urged the prince to include Nyamata during his three-day visit to the country.
“We are currently living in what we call ‘the last stage of genocide’, which is denial. And having someone like Prince Charles visit Rwanda and visit the memorial … highlights how the country has managed to recover from the terrible past , “he told CNN earlier this month during a reception at Buckingham Palace celebrating the contributions of people from across the Commonwealth.
Earlier Wednesday, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall Rwanda’s President Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame met and visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum in Gisozi, where a quarter of a million people are buried.
“This memorial is a memorial, a place where survivors and visitors come and show respect for the victims of the Tutsi genocide,” said Freddy Mutanguha, the site’s director and himself a surviving genocide. “More than 250,000 victims were buried in this memorial and their bodies were collected in various places … and this place [has] become a final destination for our loved ones, our families. “
These families include his own, who once lived in the town of Kibuye in the western province of the country.
Mutanguha told CNN that he heard assailants murdering his parents and siblings during the genocide, saying, “I hid, but I could actually hear their voices until they were finished. I survived with my sister, but I lost four sisters as well.”
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 apart from 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 say no, I have to tell the truth about what happened to my family, my country and the Tutsi people “, he continues.
Mutanguha was keen to welcome Prince Charles to learn more about what happened here and help counter a growing online threat from genocide deniers, which he likens to Holocaust denial.
“That’s what actually worries me because when the Holocaust happened, people did not learn from the past. When the Tutsi genocide happened, you can see the deniers of the genocide … mainly those who committed genocide – they feel they can do it again because they did not complete the job, so when I tell the story, work here and receive visitors, we can probably make “never again” a reality. “
A spokesman for Clarence House said the royal couple were struck by how important it is to never forget the horrors of the past. “But were also deeply moved when they listened to 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 and represents the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
The meeting is usually held every two years, but was postponed twice due to the pandemic. It is the first CHOGM he participates in since he was elected as the organization’s next leader at the gathering in 2018.
However, the king’s trip to Kigali comes at a somewhat difficult time as rage has erupted over the British government’s radical plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
The British government announced the agreement with the East African country in April, but the first flight a week ago was put on the ground after an eleven-hour intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson has also been confirmed to attend the summit of Commonwealth leaders and is expected to meet with Prince Charles on Friday morning.
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