Personel stories from Rwanda
2004-04-01, Issue 150
* Names have been omitted because of the nature of the interviews. One of the subjects is a protected witness.
"The Genocide was something overwhelming. In the first place, it is impossible to find an explanation for it. You cannot understand how a friend, a long time neighbour, comes to your house to kill you; that because you are a Tutsi you must die. You cannot understand why everyone let it happen, and you are completely left alone, you have nothing, no family...nothing. And that as a result you have to beg for someone to come to your help. I lost all my family and it means I am now responsible for many things, things I was not prepared for. I have to take care of the remaining surviving members of my family as the one who is working. You know there are those who weren't living here when the genocide broke who ask how I survived. How do you answer a question like that! They are implying that I was an accomplice. I met a soldier who asked me why I hadn't gone to fight with them, and if I had I may not have lost my family. That is an insult to an injury!
I lost five members of my family, and until now I cannot get them properly buried. They are in a septic tank where their bodies were thrown. Sometimes I want to open it and look inside but then I get scared and wonder if I can deal with the reality of seeing them in there. If I die now, my family name will be gone. Who will raise my children? I often feel a heat on the top of my head.
I am responsible for educating five children who are not my own. You can imagine my first born is five and a half years old but because of circumstances I am a parent to a 20 year old. My mother has heart problems because of the loss of her children. I have to find the medication and the money to pay for it all. And in all this I am supposed to live my own life too.
How do I cope? One must be very, very strong. If you are weak, if you show a sign of weakness then you are dead. I think we survivors are living dead. Sometimes I ask myself why I am not mad. I cry many evenings, I feel abandoned but in the morning I must get up and go about supporting what is left of my family.
I saw my family members being shot. I was hiding among the bushes. I could hear people crying out for water, crying for help and the next day you would hear they were killed. My younger sister was thrown alive into the latrines. She was begging for water and was caught, but I could not help her because if I came out from the bushes I would surely die. If I was in Europe I would be able to get some psychological help but here, one must help oneself.
Gacaca has people who defend themselves well, with their family members backing them. When you testify, they mock you. They ask you to remember, to testify and then they tell you they will release the suspects because they have accepted killing! And you are obliged to grant them pardon. The person who threw my sister in the latrine continues to live in my sector. In fact I said hello to him one day before someone who had witnessed his deeds told me who he was.
At Gacaca a prisoner will give a memorised testimony and the people there applaud when he speaks. There is a man who shot at my brother three times. I was there. I took him to the police station and they said I needed five witnesses before they could do anything.
So to me reconciliation is really for politicians. Survivors, especially in the countryside, can't do anything - they must collaborate. They are resigned and have no choice. Reconciliation is not for this generation. There are many things people don't dare say, the internal suffering they endure. People can't do anything palpable to come to the aid of those who underwent the horrors of the genocide."
"As a survivor, the genocide weighs heavy on us. It is impossible to separate ourselves from the past. One is always attached to the horror one went through, and it is always present. The criminals are still free while the victims continue living a life in misery. There are very few who are concerned about the worries of the survivors. This greatly hurts us. But what we would really like is healing; someone to listen to us, empathise with our misery, understand our suffering, soothe us and to give us support.
Ten years on, there has been no compensation and the criminals are free to do what they want, no-one stops them. It is discouraging. People seem more concerned with prisoners and returning refugees. There are widows, young girls who were raped and are now HIV positive, who will soon leave their children behind. The international community that was there at the time should get involved in getting treatment for them."
"The Genocide changed my way of life completely. I was a devout Catholic; I had attended a Catholic secondary school and then went on to a seminary. Since secondary school I knew I was heading towards being a priest. In October 1994 I left the seminary as a result of the genocide, the extreme racism I saw. Many colleagues who had participated in the killings were not interested in confessing and changing their views. It was terribly shocking for me to see them take part in the genocide. I am now somewhat isolated. Those with whom I could share my thoughts are either dead or were participants in the genocide. Living outside of the church is a change for me, something I had never thought of, and so I feel I am not settled. I try to overcome some of this by working with widows and orphans but there is always the problem of lack of means.
As I travel around the country frequently, I find that most of the people don't believe in the Genocide. There is a fear in acknowledging their crimes. In a way, to speak of unity and reconciliation is to erase traces of genocide for the accused. Reconciliation is also seen in different views. For some it means the liberation of everyone, to them that is justice being served. These opposing ideas of the genocide creates a rift between the survivors and the prisoners. It is a society that frightens me. Unity and reconciliation is always being touted but it is not the reality. There are those who don't approach the survivors during the commemoration and say it is a preoccupation of the government and the survivors. This is a worrying trend.
With the approach of the 10th anniversary, I also worry about the alienation of the youth. They are not involved in the preparations and are in a sense abandoned. It is worrying for the future. The youth change their ideas all the time so I ask myself where we will be in another 10 years.
I am now accused of being a "RPF politician", an accomplice because it is known I assisted some people to safety. Since 1994, I am always accused of having been 'bought' by the survivors. The problem is that there are a lot of prejudices here. People think if they speak out they will be considered as killers and they don't see it as shedding a light on things. I am taken to be the enemy in my home area. I think of Gacaca going on without my testimony but to give it would mean insecurity for me and my family members.
I saw many who participated in the genocide; many have been liberated and many have not been imprisoned to date. There are also those who played a part in the organisation of the genocide who haven't as yet been accused. It was traumatising to see. For instance, there was a woman who left the parish where we were to return to her home. I went after her but it was too late and I saw her being killed with a machete by several teachers, who are still teaching in my home province. And when I talk about what I saw, I am accused of wanting to destroy unity and reconciliation. That disturbs me. I accuse my society - we are living in lies. There will always be victims. It reflects what is happening all over the country to survivors, it shows how they are viewed.
I try and manage by living with others who have been through similar experiences and we share our feelings. It gives me the morale to continue with life. I ask myself how things stand between Hutus and Tutsis. There are some good people who try to understand things and nurture a different society. They offer a platform for support, a stable base and give a good image to the country. They don't generalise the situation.
With regard to the commemoration, what is missing is a criticism of the population. In the countryside they ignore what happens. They must be prepared and included in the activities until they take them on and participate. They tend to be frightened and don't want to be associated. These events shouldn't be foreign and they should be involved alongside the survivors and the authorities. People should be slowly helped to understand that the dead are like their brothers, their kin and in that way they may slowly start recognising it and talking the truth of what happened."
"I was 14 at the time of the genocide. For me, it was people following orders. There were lots of meetings and preparations for the killing, including the purchasing of machetes. There were those who attempted to help out Tutsis and failed. Mainly people were killing so as to get their hands on property. People were dying like snakes, it became a normal sight. I didn't think anything of it, other than people obeying orders that were being given by the authorities and church leaders. I was young at the time. Now, my opinions have changed - we have good leadership.
Everyone is seen as equal, as a human being. You can live where you want and education is open to all. I myself don't have a job at the moment but even so I live relatively well. I decided to testify about what I had witnessed because the new leadership told us that we should speak so the truth of what happened be known, so that those who were guilty could be brought to justice and that those who may be wrongly accused could be set free.
So I decided to speak out because I had witnessed a lot. At the time I didn't know it would lead to any trouble. I ended up receiving threats and people wanted me dead, even my family. It was difficult and it bothered me because they chased me from home and they wanted me to die. They would have helped anyone wanting me dead. They would say that I should let the Tutsis handle things themselves, that I should not involve myself or we would all end up being killed. There is a man who refuses to give me work because I gave testimony implicating his younger brother. But I am saying what I saw, I am speaking the truth and I would do it again even knowing now what I face. The truth is the truth. If it means I die then so be it. When my family disowned me I felt alone, and life is hard. I have no work and I am in the same clothes day after day...
All this has meant that I am constantly on the move, worrying for my life but in telling the truth my heart is at peace. I had thought that if I spoke out, being the youngest among those I was with, the others would testify too but that hasn't been the case. They are at home not saying anything."
* Many thanks to Elizabeth Onyango in Rwanda, who conducted these interviews for Pambazuka News.