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20 Years On: Rwandans learn to live beside the men who killed their children

Today, survivors and perpetrators come together to learn how to live side by side so their country can move towards reconciliation.


Source: Trocaire/Vimeo

IN THIS VILLAGE, there are only two types of people. The people whose families were killed…and the people who killed them.

‘Let the Devil Sleep: Rwanda 20 Years After Genocide’, a video created by Trócaire, tells stories of guilt, confession and forgiveness in a country trying to recover from one of the worst atrocities carried out by man.

“I was like an animal,” says one of those men who killed, standing next to a woman whose family perished in the 1994 Rwandan massacre.

“I knew most of the people that were killed that day, if not all of them. Because we were neighbours…The objective was to exterminate them.”

“If it happened again, I would die with them, trying to protect them,” another says to the camera.

The video was made to mark the 20th anniversary of the country’s descent into genocide and examines how survivors are now leading a national reconciliation programme.

Tutsis and Hutus are reunited in the same villages once more and have to learn how to live side by side – how to co-exist – despite the murder, violence and evil. People are learning to be Rwandan together.

The organised massacres of the Tutsi people began in April 1994. An estimated 800,000 people – mostly Tutsis, but also some moderate Hutus – were killed in the coming months.

The executions were well-planned and viciously executed. They started on 6 April, shortly after Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana died when he plane was shot down over the capital, Kigali.

Roadblocks were set up, with Tutsi men, women and children of all ages butchered with machetes, guns and grenades.

Over the past three months, a period of official mourning for those victims has been marked.

Today, a flame was lit that will burn for 100 days, the length of time it took government soldiers and ‘Hutu power’ militiamen to carry out their plan to wipe out the Inyenzi (a term meaning cockroaches that was used by Hutu extremists to designate minority Tutsis).

During today’s ceremony at the national stadium, survivors of the genocide recounted their memories of the killings and of survival. Several people were overcome with trauma, screaming and crying uncontrollably with medical staff helping to carry them out and to provide counselling.

“It is the day when the faces of all those I loved and died come back,” said Marie Muresyankwano, a mother in her thirties, adding she would watch events on television, but would otherwise spend time “with my own thoughts”.

Rwanda Genocide Anniversary A wailing and distraught Rwandan woman, one of dozens overcome by grief at recalling the horror of the genocide, is carried away to receive help during a public ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, at Amahoro stadium in Kigali. Source: AP/Press Association Images

In his speech at the stadium, President Kagame said Rwandans should also celebrate the remarkable progress made in the past 20 years.

“Today we have a reason to celebrate the normal moments of life, that are easy for others to take for granted. If the genocide reveals humanity’s shocking capacity for human cruelty, Rwanda’s choices show its capacity for renewal.”

The UN chief has said the commemorations were a chance to remind the world to do all it can to ensure such crimes never happen again.

“Today, Syria is in flames and the Central African Republic is in chaos. The world has yet to fully overcome its divisions, its indifference, its moral blind spots,” he said.

But he asserted there was progress, and that “leaders and warlords alike face the growing likelihood of prosecution for their crimes”.

The UN was widely criticised in 1994 for only belatedly recognising that a genocide was in progress and therefore shirking its responsibility to intervene, but Ban said the UN had changed its way of operating as a result.

“I have sent my own signal to UN representatives around the world, My message to them is simply this: When you see people at risk of atrocity crimes, do not wait for instructions from afar. Speak up, even if it may offend. Act,” he said.

The official “Kwibuka” mourning — meaning “remember” in Kinyarwanda — ends on 4 July, Rwanda’s liberation day.

Additional Reporting by AFP

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