Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Witness To Genocide

"You train your brain to die. Then suddenly you live. But you can't train your brain back to life. A piece of you is always dead."
Twenty years may seem a long time. Twenty years of pain, 20 years of suffering, 20 years of bad memories, nightmares and loneliness; when you're in so much pain, time doesn't mean much."
We have an obligation, a duty, not to forget. Having survived I owe something to the dead, and anyone who does not remember betrays them again."
"We were naive. We trusted the peacekeepers. We trusted the diplomats. We trusted that the international community would be there to save us."
"We heard people passing by, screaming and crying and begging for mercy. We waited for them to come in. We expected to die."
Chantal Mudahogora, Tutsi Rwandan genocide survivor
Rwandan genocide survivor moves audience to tears
Genocide survivor Chantal Mudahogora speaks about her escape from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, one of the darkest moments in human history.  Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger , Ottawa Citizen
At a memorial held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, there was a gathering of politicians, diplomats and human rights activists, some to speak, and all of them there to pay tribute in sad memory to the suffering of an ethnic group of people targeted for mass slaughter. Chantal Mudahogora was there to speak from personal experience of what it was like to have been there.

“Someone called and told us that militia was coming, so I went to my neighbour, with my son, to search for a safe place and she chased me away.  She said, ‘You guys are going to die, I don’t want you in my house,’ so we had to go back. She wasn’t targeted and had been my friend for years.”
“He was so terrified,” Mudahogora said. “The last thing he said to me was, ‘Chantal, I think they are coming, I can see them by our gate, I have to go in the backyard, I have to join the children there,’ and then he hung up. After that, I called back – again and again – but there was no response.”
 “A friend of Christian’s was among the killers and came into our compound with this long sword full of blood. He used to hold Christian’s hand, go to the market and buy soda and sweets for him,”  “When Christian saw him, he jumped on him and started saying, ‘I want a soda, I want a sweet.’ Christian just starting talking to him and then, I think, his humanity came back… he jumped over the fence and went away.”
“We did not know what was going on outside; all we could hear were screams from people in the street.They were screaming, ‘Don’t kill me, please, don’t kill me!’ and kids were screaming, ‘I will no longer be a Tutsi!’ Those screams are vivid and when they come back, you feel like you’re reliving it.”
“That was the date they came to our gate. That’s also the date when my parents were killed; they were gathered in one of the local churches with about 6,000 Tutsis. The killers first tried to bang down the door. My son and I went to the guest room to see who was banging at the door and then they threw a grenade by the window; I had my son in my hands, I turned around, so my back was facing the window, luckily it did not touch us.”
 “We began crawling along a big wall and then hit a large brick fence, which we had to go through to get to the other side. We couldn’t go left or right – there were roadblocks each way – so one of the men used his gun to make a hole in the fence, so everybody could climb through. He could only remove about four bricks, the hole was so small.”
 “I had my son on my back. My fear was always being separated from my son. I thought, ‘I can’t remove him from my back and put him through first or leave him behind,’ so I had to make a quick decision. I climbed through the tiny hole with my son on my back. I still don’t know how I did it.”
From early April to mid-July of 1994, over a hundred-day period of horrible pain, confusion and bloodshed committed by the majority Rwandan Hutu population in a concerted attack against the minority Tutsis, an estimated million people died. Mostly ethnic Tutsi Rwandans, but including also a minority of Hutus who hadn't joined the bloodletting, who attempted to stop the slaughter, who tried to protect their neighbours from their marauding counterparts out for blood.

At one time it was the minority Tutsis who had been in the ascendancy of power, put there by their Belgian colonizers who considered them superior to the Hutus, until in time the tide turned and favour was given to the Hutus. Relations between the two were strained and became increasingly so with the departure of the Belgians and Rwandan independence. When the Hutu attacked Tutsis in the 1950s over 100,000 Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries. Independence arrived in 1962.

But conflict continued, culminating in the Rwandan genocide. The Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi militia that conducted cross-border raids into Rwanda attacking Hutus in 1990, started the Rwandan Civil War that ended in a draw. The Hutus planned their revenge to be expressed in the elimination of the Rwandan Tutsi population. During the remembrance at the Canadian War Museum, Chantal Mudahogora kept her audience spellbound as she recounted the events she cannot forget.

She spoke of the situation facing the Tutsi population gradually deteriorating and in late 1993 marauding Huti militias and gangs began the serious business of terrorizing Tutsis. In many instances Hutu neighbours who had lived side by side for many years in peace, took up the cause of eliminating their Tutsi neighbours in the general atmosphere of hatred, responding to the continued propaganda and calls to slaughter.

Tutsis were dragged from their offices, from schools, their homes, and were never seen alive again. People would attempt to go about their normal day, in the full knowledge that there were no guarantees that their days would end normally. By April of 1994, the killing machine kicked into full gear. Co-ordinated attacks saw Hutus flocking to Tutsi neighbourhoods, throwing grenades into homes, forcing people into the open, butchering them.

As the men, women and children fled in terror for their lives they were hacked to death. Many fled for safety to churches that were then lit afire, and they died in churches become charnel houses. Chantal Mudahogora and her family somehow survived. Thanks, she says, to the appearance of troops with the Rwandan Patriotic Front. They fled the country to live in a refugee camp until they were informed they could return to their homes in safety, that all was now in order, the horrors gone.

But Rwanda, to live there again amidst all the memories that refused to fade, among Hutus whom they could no longer trust, seemed a living death to them. Although the mass killings had ended, they feared the presence of Hutus, believing they would be killed because of the wish to rid themselves of witnesses to the horror. And in the late 1990s the Mudahogora family came to Canada.

Where her neighbours were Canadians of a variety of ethnic origins; none among them, however, Hutus.

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