Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

'I forgive friend who killed my family'

John Paul Samputu
Jean Paul Samputu wanted revenge but decided that would not "heal him"

John Paul Samputu's family was murdered during Rwanda's genocide of 1994 by a friend and a neighbour. He still calls him a friend because he has forgiven him.

John Paul is now an ambassador of peace and next month he will take part in an international forgiveness conference in his homeland. The BBC World Service's Mark Whitaker spoke to him:

JP: "In Rwanda we need to heal the wounds of the past. It's now 15 years but when you look at what happened in the genocide people are still affected."

MW: "Do you think 15 years is long enough?"

JP: "It's like one year. People still have bitterness, anger and the spirit of revenge."

He (my friend) said: 'We had the laws of the genocide. And I had to kill your father
Jean Paul Samputu
MW: "You talk about reconciliation and your own reconciliation is perhaps one of the most remarkable that I have heard. Your entire family was killed by your neighbour, someone who was a friend, and you have now forgiven him?"

JP: "Yes I have forgiven him because I didn't have any choice. By forgiving him, I was healed. And me and him together, we are now dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation."

MW: "Why do you say you didn't have a choice?"

JP: "After the genocide, when I went to my village and I learnt that my best friend was the one who killed my parents, it destroyed me. I couldn't understand why a very good friend would do that. I lost my mind.

"It took nine years dealing with anger and bitterness. I lost my career. I was addicted... drugs. At the end, I realised I was destroying myself."

MW: "You must have wanted to kill him?"

JP: "Yeah - the first time. I didn't see him but I was going to kill him. I have never killed in my life. I decided to forgive him because I wanted to get healing."

Skulls of victims of Rwanda genocide (27/02/2004)
6 April: President Habyarimana killed in plane explosion
April - July: Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed
July: Tutsi-led rebel movement RPF captures the capital Kigali
July: Two million Hutus flee to Zaire, now DR Congo

MW: "Your friend is a killer. What did he say to you when you said: 'I want to forgive you'?"

JP: "The first time he thought it was a political game. He was thinking: 'How can he forgive me when I can not forgive myself?' It was hard to understand."

MW: "Has he ever explained to you why he did it?"

JP: "Of course. Because now we are together we talk about everything.

"He said: 'You know Samputu, your father was a very good friend. More than you.

"And I asked him: 'If he was your friend, why did you kill him?'

"He said: 'You don't understand. We had the laws of the genocide. In the genocide, the law was that your best friend, your close neighbour, was the one who must be killed by you, because you were close. And I had to kill your father because I was the closest'."

MW: "And that was repeated across Rwanda? Those sort of interpersonal relationships were distorted?"

JP: "Even the husband killed his wife. It was not killing for them, it was working. If you kill many people then you are rewarded."

MW: "Do you think your father will be proud of you?"

JP: "If I revenge or I kill because he was killed, I think he (my father) would not accept that...


"I can't do what they did... If I don't forgive, what do we do to the other children?

"It's a cycle of violence. A cycle of hatred. It's generations. The world, where we live, carries the wounds of not forgiving and future peace depends on what we do with that."

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