Never Again: Giving voice to survivors of the Rwandan Genocide

by Angela and David Blakely and Lloyd

Its sixteen years after the Rwanda Genocide and there remains with us a strong and lingering sadness.
 
In 1994, only six months after the RPF victory and the end of the slaughter the first soldiers from the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda II arrived in-country. Australia provided the medical contingent. Following a long tradition of embedding ‘war artists’ with their troops in conflict areas, we were attached to the first rotation of Australian Forces to Rwanda. Our brief was to document the impact of the Australian unit. Like so many others, we believed the Genocide had ended once the killings had ceased.

In 2006 and 2008 we returned to Rwanda to find the traces of Australia’s involvement in the contemporary society. What we discovered was that for many survivors there is no life after the genocide. They have lost, and continue to loose, their health, their dignity, their security and their liberty. In many ways, through the omission of the Rwanda government and the international community to enforce notions of justice, the genocide continues.

Today the perpetrators are estimated to outnumber survivors ten fold. Rwanda is impoverished. Its educated class (jurists, industrialists, politicians, doctors, teachers) were either victims or genocidaires. As Rwanda struggles to rebuild, survivors must live with perpetrators in an uneasy truce, with fear and justice denied. And once again the world looks on.

As we spoke to survivors it was obvious that many see their lives as finished and themselves as the living dead. Many carry the scars of the Genocide – both physically and emotionally. They shared their stories with us in the hope that people will care.  We carry their stories so people will know.

Over time we have come to understand that through their stories each validates their survival.
 
Massacre Site, 2008, Nyarubuye Roman Catholic ChurchThe mayor said to flee to the church. It was a trap. “The killers killed all day...day after day, Tutsi by Tutsi.” Nyarubuye Roman Catholic Church was turned into a killing field where around 20,000 people were slaughtered.
The Altar The altar inside the church at Nyamata is covered with the cloth that was placed there before the killings began. It now bears the stains of blood from the massacre that was carried out inside.
In the Death Memorial site near the church in Kibeho, Rwanda.
 
 I met a woman today. Marcella told me what life was like for her during the genocide: watching her husband be killed; knowing her children were slaughtered; feeling the spear stab her pregnant abdomen. She related how “the neighbours, the militia and the soldiers came to kill us with guns, machetes and clubs”. What Marcella wouldn’t explain is how the women were killed. She simply said it was “inappropriate”.
The Cell Gaol cells in Taba Commune were sites of torture and rape.
Faith Remains The community at Nyamata have collected the clothes of all those who were killed there. Inside the church, they have laid them out on rough pews so that they dominate the space. The interior is dimly lit. As our eyes adjust there is just enough light to scan the piles of clothes and pick out items that show the pattern, lace, fabric that someone once decided upon. A crucifix. A small pair of shorts. A young child’s dress. There is a strong smell of decay. Perhaps flesh that may still cling to the worn clothing. Small streams of light filter in where shrapnel from grenades thrown inside have ripped the roof. Killers used guns, machetes and clubs to slaughter the 10,000 people who had collected here. The killings that took place inside this church add to the total of 41,00 that it is estimated were killed in this area.
I met a woman today. Her name is Daphrose – she is ninety-one-years-old. Her age stood out in a country with so few elderly survivors. At the time of the genocide Daphrose had eight children – only three survived. And of her nineteen grandchildren, none survived. Before the genocide, her eldest son owned land near Kibeho. She remembers when they planted it with gum trees; hope for the future. She no longer had the papers that proved the land belonged to her family. She is now forced to make the long trip to Kibeho to fightfor it through the courts. There is no one else. When Daphrose is gone there will be no one in the family to take up the struggle. She is determined, she is strong, but she is old. She hopes she will live to see truth win through. I hope so too.
I met a Kigali today. She was sitting on a gravestone at the memorial museum, weeping quietly. She held a tissue in her hand and wiped her tears. Walking past, I didn’t want to interrupt her. She was sitting on one of the nine tombs that hold the bodies of 250,000 people – only some of those killed in Kigali during the genocide. I wondered for whom she was crying?