In the basement below 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 in an act of barbaric sexual violence.
Attackers attacked churches such as this one on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali. More than 10,000 people were killed here in two days, according to memorial manager Rachel Murekatete. The 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 touched when he was shown on the grounds of the church, where bodies found elsewhere are even now brought in as former attackers identify 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 this week.
After being shown the burial site, the 73-year-old royal laid a wreath in honor of the victims buried there. On his card is a note from the royal family, written in the local Kinyarwanda language: “We will always remember the innocent souls who were killed during the genocide against the Tutsis in April 1994. Be strong, Rwanda. Charles”.
The royal then visited Mbio Reconciliation Village, one of eight such villages in Rwanda, where survivors and perpetrators of the genocide live side by side. The criminals publicly apologize for their crimes, and the survivors swear forgiveness.
On the first day of his visit to Rwanda, he was largely focused on learning more about the massacres nearly three decades ago. Rwandan footballer and genocide survivor Erik Murangwa urged the prince to turn on Nyamata during his three-day visit to the country.
“We are currently living in what we call “the last stage of genocide,” that is, in denial. And that someone like Prince Charles visits Rwanda and visits the memorial … highlights how the country has managed to recover from this terrible past,” he said. told CNN earlier this month during a reception at Buckingham Palace honoring 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 visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum in Gisozi, 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 their respects to the victims of the anti-Tutsi genocide,” says Freddie Mutanguha, director of the site and himself a genocide survivor. “More than 250,000 victims are buried in this memorial and their bodies are collected in different places … and this place [has] be the destination for our loved ones, our families.”
Among these families is his family, who once lived in the city of Kibuye in the western province of the country.
Mutanguha told CNN that he heard the attackers kill his parents and siblings during the genocide, saying: “I was in hiding, but I could actually hear their voices until they were done. I survived with my sister, but I also lost four sisters.”
Keeping their memory alive is what drives his mission at the memorial.
“This is a very important place for me as a survivor, because in addition to the fact that we buried our family, my mother is here, in one of the mass graves, this is a home for me, but also [it’s] the place where I work and feel this 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.
Mutangua was keen to welcome Prince Charles to learn more about what happened here and help counter the growing online threat from genocide deniers, which he likens to Holocaust denial.
“That’s what really worries me, because when the Holocaust happened, people didn’t learn from the past. When there was a genocide against the Tutsis, you can see the genocide deniers… basically the ones who committed the genocide – they feel like they can do it again because they haven’t finished the job. So as I tell the story, I work here, and I host visitors, maybe we can make ‘never again’ a reality.”
A spokesman for Clarence House said the royals were struck by the importance of never forgetting the horrors of the past. “But also deeply moved when listening to people who have found a way to live and even forgive the most heinous crimes,” they added.
Prince Charles arrived in Rwanda on Tuesday evening, becoming 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 normally held every two years but has been postponed twice due to the pandemic. This is the first CHOGM he has attended since he was chosen as the organization’s next head at the 2018 meeting.
However, the royal trip to Kigali comes at a somewhat awkward time as furor erupted at home over the UK government’s radical plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
The British government announced a deal with the East African country in April, but the first flight was halted a week ago after the European Court of Human Rights intervened.
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.
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