Rwanda Genocide Fifteen Years Later
Today marks the end of a week of national mourning in Rwanda to mark 15 years since the genocide which killed 800,000 people. On the 7th of April ceremonies were held in the capital Kigali, and in Nyanza, where more than 5,000 people were slaughtered. At a stadium in Kigali, thousands of candles spelt out the word “hope” in three languages.
Rwandan blogger Negrita's Chronicles asked her readers to join the nation-wide candlelight vigil for the victims through her blog:
It has been 15 years since the Genocide forever changed my home and my people.
The world stood silent as cries for help went unheeded.
Please join us in lighting a candle in memory of those whose lives were taken and in hope for a future of peace, justice, and true reconciliation.
In succesive posts, Negrita posted a video for the campaign Candles for Rwanda, and the song ‘Never Again' written and recorded in commemoration of the Genocide. The song was composed by Rwanda's gospel singer Jean Paul Samputu in Kinyanrwanda, but its choruses are sung in different languages (English, French, Swahili, Kirundi and Kiganda) by various popular regional musicians.
Martin Leach, the head of the DFID (British Department for International Development) in Rwanda attended the ceremonies in Nyanza, which he describes in his blog:
Hundreds of people trudged up the long hill to Nyanza, many of them wearing something purple, a neckscarf, a wrap, even a purple wristband. The colour purple is the colour of mourning in Rwanda and yesterday, 7th April, was the 15th Anniversary of the Genocide. At the top of the hill I joined the large crowd at the Commemoration Ceremony. Wedged between two ambassadors, I heard heart breaking accounts from survivors of the massacre which took place on the site where we were seated, with no one to protect them against the brutal attacks of the militia.
But it was the young people who moved me most: girls dressed in purple and white reciting poems in Kinyarwandan about the need to take courage for the future in spite of the sorrow and grief, and a youth choir with ‘Never Again' emblazoned on their T-shirts and headbands, singing with emotion about the importance of never forgetting the genocide. And it was emotional. Even the Government Ministers were shedding tears, remembering their experiences and lost loved ones. I can't imagine it - one million people killed in 100 days: as the Lady Mayor of Kigali said ‘an unspeakable evil' had gripped the country.
Michael Abramowitz of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum was in Kigali for the ceremonies. In the blog World is Witness, Abramovitz recounts the testimony of a genocide survivor called Venuste that moved the audience with his story during the ceremony:
Venuste, who looked to be in his 50s or 60s, with a dignified bearing, proceeded to tell the hushed crowd how his family and neighbors decided to take refuge at the nearby L’Ecole Technique Officielle, thinking that might be a safe refuge because of the small contingent of Belgian United Nations soldiers stationed there. But four days later, to their great shock, the small U.N. force departed, telling those gathered on the school grounds that “gendarmes” would rescue them. The U.N. soldiers ignored their desperate pleas not to leave them at the mercy of a menacing crowd of government soldiers and armed militia that surrounded them outside the gates of the school.
After the departure of the last U.N. soldier, Venuste and some 5,000 others who were gathered on the school grounds were forced to walk a jeering gauntlet of Hutu militiamen, soldiers and civilians wielding machetes, guns and other weapons. Some of those who survived described it as a “death walk.” Venuste lost his right arm, hacked off by one of the tormentors. The walkers came to this unremarkable hill, where they were encircled by a gang of killers and set upon with grenades, machetes and clubs. Within a few hours, Venuste said, “We were lying in pools of blood.”