As some of the worst atrocities committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide nears its 20th anniversary, the question of how they were kept a secret lingers. In recent days, the journal of La Croix, which covered Rwanda’s independence in 1960, has published its first article on the mass killings by journalists who later became human rights lawyers. Why weren’t the mass murders and mutilations revealed sooner?
Rwanda’s attorney general George Kanyendereza, who was a fellow at Columbia University and who has been an expert on genocide and human rights issues, had no answers when asked about why the crimes were kept under wraps for so long. “There was no due process for the victims in 1994,” he said. “They were too scattered, and [the victims] were near the town where the genocide started. They were shot and killed there, or they were simply separated and left there. So if they were by the way there, a prosecutor didn’t have to go there to deal with the crimes.” He added, “If you go back, I don’t think we could find very many people who were there.”
The journal also quotes lawyer Kimio Werle who is currently defending 11 people charged with genocide in an ongoing case in Kigali. Most of the accused were mistreated while detained by the government, they say. “A lot of people were in the know,” Werle said. “But no one could tell, because the authorities were trying to minimize what the crimes were. It’s not possible to do that any more.”
In a previous article in the journal, John-Patrick Doberlieve of the University of Toronto’s Law Faculty said it was also a moral hazard for the current Rwandan government to hide a historical crime.
The war created a morality of silence, hiding behind the very tenet of citizenship and promising to protect their citizens. It is no longer possible for the state to effectively lay its entire responsibility for war crimes on the citizens of that country.
Among other reasons, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda included the killing of one million members of the Tutsi community. Today, the country faces an education crisis, with children who were tortured and killed being given failing grades. In another article in the journal, Kanyendereza explained the absence of shame.
The taboo of talking about the fact that Rwanda’s [genocide] history had been committed by people who were Rwandans and therefore Rwandans meant that the class of 1994 had been sheltered from shame. It is not enough to conclude that the perpetrators of the crime were from the victimized group; it is necessary to show the division of which were the perpetrators of the crime from the victims. These messages are important.
Nédrasin Nduwimana was there at the time as a boy. He wanted to join his father, who was one of the Kagame supporters, but he was sent to work in an army camp. When he was 22, he had a daughter and when he ran out of money, a friend said, “Why don’t you help me?” and asked him to carry some of the children back to his village, or at least to help deliver them. “I remember the time when I found a baby and was crying in my house. I was emotionally ready to give it up and my family was paying for me.”
Kagame isn’t the only one going through a different kind of trauma. As the young man considers what happened in 1994 — and how it might affect the outcome of his life today — he comes to believe he may have participated. “There were so many problems with the genocide: most of them were civilian deaths. The Tutsi people have no capacity to grieve. They have been beaten, burned and killed and have been dismembered and burned to ashes. So we were not surprised.” He adds, “Perhaps I took part.”
Nduwimana uses his company’s American Express card to send his mother to the United States to get reconstructive surgery after her brother was shot in the stomach and died. She recently contacted the Journal through Twitter asking for forgiveness. “I realize that I need to find a way to send them back to Rwanda so my mother can choose what to say, but I don’t know how.”
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