Friday, August 31, 2007

Never Again

Where were you in April 1994?

I was still living in South Africa at that time. I didn't have a television, so I didn't watch the news every day. But I used the read the papers most days. I cannot remember that there was much of any news about Rwanda at that time. Or was there? Perhaps the 25-year-old in me simply didn't care to pay attention.

Walking through the Genocide Memorial in Kigali earlier this week, I kept thinking, "Why didn't the world speak out? Why was this allowed to happen?"

Genocide. Never again.

There were signs like this in the memorial as well as at other roadside memorials. Never again. Yet, it is still happening. In Darfur, even today.

What happened in Rwanda, I still don't fully comprehend.

"We are one people. We have one language. One history," one sign read. But elsewhere, it talked about 18 clans in Rwanda, among those, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. (The Twa made up only 1% of the population, so you rarely hear much about them. Around 85% were Hutu, the rest, Tutsi.)

Yet in the 1930s, the Belgian colonialists decided to issue ID cards for all Rwandans. They determined if you were Hutu, Tutsi or Twa by senseless measures: literally measuring people's foreheads and noses, or their height. They taught in Catholic schools that Tutsis are superior, that they were more intelligent and had greater abilities than Hutus. They appointed Tutsis in key government positions so that by 1957, almost all of the chiefs and assistant chiefs around the country were Tutsis.

In 1959, King Rudahigwa died. A massacre of Tutsis was organized. Many were killed. Many fled the country.

In 1960, before Belgium gave Rwanda back their independence, they wanted to make sure the country has a strong army. But now, things were off balance: The army was made up of a majority of Hutu due to the fact that they made up almost 90% of the entire population of the country.

In 1961, the country had its first elections, and a Hutu prime minister came to power. Ethnic cleansing continued with more than 700,000 Tutsis exhiled between 1959 and 1973, the year that Rwanda had a coup d'etat.

From what I read, it seems like the time between 1973 and 1990 was without any major events. I could be wrong. But things really turned bad in 1990, when Interahamwe, a Hutu youth militia group, was formed.

They started a propaganda campaign, persuading people to see their Tutsi neighbors and friends as the enemy. Radio and television was used to incite hatred. Later, it was also used to share information on how the genocide will take place. (Today, the media is guarded with an iron fist.) Little by little, people were contitioned to accept the plan and even join Interahamwe's plans to eradicate the Tutsis.

In December 1990, Interahamwe published the "Hutu 10 Commandments," which declared that any Hutus associating with or carrying out business with Tutsi neighbors, friends or family, were traitors. No Hutu could marry a Tutsi or even employ a Tutsi.

In 1993, an agreement was made in Arusha (Tanzania). The Arusha Peace Accord determined that there'd be a cease-fire, that Rwanda was to have a transitional government, refugees should be allowed to return and that there would be a democratic election.

However, the leader of the MRND didn't want the Arusha Accords to succeed, and made a $12 million arms deal with France.

In January 1994, an informant called "Jean-Pierre," a member of the president's security guard, informed the UN that the president has lost control of the extremists, that Interahamwe had trained 1,700 soldiers to kill up to 1,000 people every 20 minutes, and they were training another 300 every week.

The UN did nothing.

On April 6, 1994, the president's plane was shot down at 8:23 pm. By 9:15, there were road blocks throughout Kigali. Interahamwe had a death list, and one by one, people were being killed. They had one intent: Kill the Tutsis.

One sign read,

"If you must remember, remember this:

The Nazis did not kill 6 million Jews...

nor the Interahamwe kill a million Tutsis.

They killed one, and then another,

than another...

Genocide is not a single act of murder.

It is a million acts of murder."

Rwanda's million acts of murder was ruthless.

Interahamwe soldiers used machetes, clubs, guns and any blunt tools to inflict pain. Some people were buried alive.

I tried not to look at the pictures of dead bodies, but thought it would be wrong not to listen to the video testimonies of survivors. "My sisters were thrown into a pit latrine," one young lady explained. "Others were thrown on top of them. People were screaming until everything just grew quiet."

Neighbors turned on neighbors, friends on friends. Family on family.

Some were killed straight away. Some were crucified. Some raped, then killed. Even in churches. In one village, 20,000 people were killed in a church!

Mothers were forced to kill their own Tutsi children.

By the end of the month, one million people were dead.

Tens of thousands had been tortured, mutilated, raped. There were 300,000 orphans. Eighty five thousand children were left as heads of households.

"The country smelt of the stench of death," one survivor said. "Rwanda was dead."

But the world did nothing.

On April 21, 1994, the UN stated that it was "appalled at the ensuing large scale of violence in Rwanda." Others commented, "There was no ethnic war. There was no civil war."

No-one sent help until July, when the RPF (an army made up of Tutsi refugees) succeeded in taking control of the country.

By then, there were 2 million refugees in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the D.R.Congo. More than 60% of Rwanda's population had been displaced.

Everywhere around the country, boards went up with photos of relatives. "Have you seen him?"

In Kigali, there were thousands of mass graves. Most families either have a victim, a perpetrator, or a collaborator.

"It is impossible to forget the past," another victim's voice still rings in my head. "It is also extremely painful to remember..." She continues, "I would describe what happened in 1994 as Rwanda went through hell. It was silent. The world was silent. It was as if Rwanda had dropped off the face of the earth."

"It was like a nightmare," another man shares. He had lost his wife and all his children. "But after a while, you realized it was real because they were no longer around. ... Now, after more than 10 years, people start to understand. They're still hurting. There is still a long way to go. ... We are told to forgive," he continues. "But who do we forgive? Not all Hutus killed. I cannot say, 'I forgive the Hutus.' But if someone came and told me, 'I am the one who killed your wife and children,' I would forgive them."

And so, in the short few days I spent in Rwanda, I got a sense of hope. People weren't necessarily talking much about what was happening. In fact, it is scorned upon to ask what people group someone belongs to. "We're all Rwandese," is the general attitude. But at the same time, people are given a chance to talk at gacacas (ga'chachas), community courts held under the trees all over the countryside. We drove past several gacaca meetings held under the trees.

It's hard to grasp how a nation finds healing from an event such as a genocide. In one room at the memorial, children's photos are up on the wall. Life-size photos listing their names, ages, their favorite toys or games, what food they liked most. And then, for some, their last words. And how they died. Two preschoolers' smiling faces won't leave me. And then the causes of death, which I won't type here.

But the fact is, though Rwanda is healing, Interahamwe soldiers are still out in surrounding countries, tearing communities apart.

As I interviewed one young girl at ELI's school in Bukavu yesterday, she told me of her family being burned to death in their home in the countryside in the Congo. "It was Interahamwe," she whispered, barely audible.

"Why does Africa have so many wars?" someone once asked me. I cannot say. But what I do know is that the West doesn't seem to care about the wars in Africa as much as they care about wars in the Middle East. I can only surmise to say that it's because we don't have enough oil for the West to get involved. There's no financial gain.

Why else would a million people die in Rwanda in a month and the world do nothing?

Why else is so little still being done about the genocide in Darfur?

Genocide. Never again.

But it's still happening.

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