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Tuesday 1 November 2005
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RWANDA: A nation in healing, 10 years after genocide

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Genocide survivors in Rwanda

KIGALI, 6 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - Ten years ago, on 7 April, Rwanda witnessed one of the worst atrocities in recent history: the country's lush green bushes, hills, valleys; its streets, rivers and homes were drenched in blood, and churches overflowed with the mutilated bodies of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. It was an orgy in which neighbours and friends killed each other; some people even killed their own children and next of kin.

When the world first became aware of the genocide, critics say, the international community failed to respond decisively. The result was that at least 937,000 people, according to a recent Rwandan government survey, were killed in 100 days. So, the 10th anniversary of the genocide is be a painful moment for millions, especially for survivors who are still trying to recover their shattered lives.

"It is difficult to forget," Chantal Umurungi, 24, the sole survivor of the genocide in a family of 10, told IRIN. "I keep remembering how Hutu militants were cutting off peopleís heads, and this normally comes in the form of nightmares."

The mass killings were orchestrated by extremists in the government and carried out by many ordinary Hutus sucked into a frenzy of hatred. Today, in the church of Nyamata, where Umurungi sought refuge, the skeletons of the dead still litter the floor as a stark memento of those events.

Since then, however, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front has taken steps to heal the nation. One of these is a ban imposed against ethnic profiling. Accordingly, national identity cards no longer classify holders by ethnicity. But under the previous government, this means of classification had been used to exclude many citizens from receiving education, employment and other services.


The present government has also established a unity and reconciliation commission as an avenue for people to express their feelings and to reflect on the past with a view to finding ways to build a united society.

"In these forums we discuss the past, present and future and see how we can promote this country as Rwandans and accommodate each other - institute a culture of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and respect for each otherís rights," Fatuma Ndagiza, the executive secretary of the Commission for Unity and Reconciliation, said.

For Rwandans, reconciliation is a must, although for some genocide survivors like Umurungi, having to cope with raw psychological wounds inflicted in the past remains a heart-wrenching process.

"We believe in reconciliation because it is a government programme," Umurungi said, "but deep within our hearts, it is certainly difficult to forgive and forget."


Today, almost every Rwandan knows of a friend or relative who either died or took part in the killings. But overall, the nation is at peace with itself: Hutu, Tutsi and Twa are living on the same hills, and sharing food and drinks just as they did in the pre-colonial days; some have even inter-married.

"Thereís no Tutsi, Hutu or Twa in todayís Rwanda. We are all Rwandans," said Clement Bizimana, a Hutu and resident of the capital, Kigali, who said he had not taken part in the genocide.

However, the nation's greatest challenge is to seek justice for the victims. Prisons are overflowing with up to 89,000 inmates accused of crimes during the 1994 massacres, while many of the masterminds remain at large.

The majority of Rwandans regard justice as an essential, if painful, component of reconciliation, serving both to acknowledge suffering and perhaps close the chapter on those who disappeared during the mayhem.

"We feel that the justice process has been too slow and in some cases unfair. To us it has been a double agony to lose our loved ones and to have no justice done," Banoit Kamanzi, a member of Ibuka (meaning "remember") - an umbrella organisation for genocide survivors, said.

To expedite trials for the tens of thousands of genocide suspects still in detention, in 2001 the government reintroduced a traditional system of village courts known as Gacaca. The idea is for locally elected judges to hear testimony from everyone in any given village who witnessed the genocide, and sentence the guilty.

However, the Gacaca system has yet to become operational at all administrative levels nationwide. People prefer to tend their gardens rather than spend time listening to evasive testimonies. For their part, the elected Gacaca judges are demoralised because the government has not assigned them any remuneration package for their services.

The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, set up in Tanzania to try suspected genocide planners, has arrested 66 of the 81 people indicted for genocide-related crimes. In 10 years it has convicted just 18 people. Progress in finding more senior suspects accused of masterminding the killings has also been fraught with delays, while the Rwandan government insists that up to 300 are still at large.

Looking to the future

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is convinced that the country can no longer tolerate ethnic tension and hatred. He has said it is up to Rwandans to change the situation once and for all by supporting constructive views as opposed to negative ideologies.

"As we commemorate the 10th anniversary, we will not just be mourning our dead: what we will be doing is to reflect deeply on the lessons created for us by that tragic situation, and from that to move to a better future we can create for ourselves, because thatís what we deserve," he said in an interview published in the 5 - 11 April issue of the Nairobi-based The EastAfrican. "We deserve to live together, to develop and prosper like other nations. We should not be held hostage by the past, we want to look forward."

On the Net:
Ten years After the Genocide
Genocide & Justice (Official Web Site of the Republic of Rwanda)

 Theme(s) Human Rights
Other recent RWANDA reports:

Region yet to discuss rebel menace,  28/Oct/05

"Asylum seekers" need urgent relief aid, UN official says,  26/Oct/05

Ex-president appeals against imprisonment,  25/Oct/05

"Genocide mastermind" begins testifying,  24/Oct/05

Officials agree to repatriate "asylum seekers",  18/Oct/05

Other recent Human Rights reports:

YEMEN: Akhdam people suffer history of discrimination, 1/Nov/05

CONGO-DRC: Kinshasa team in Brazzaville to identify former soldiers, 31/Oct/05

SOUTH AFRICA: Repatriation centre to improve after probe into 28 deaths, 31/Oct/05

LIBERIA: Diverse new parliament spells coalition for whoever ends up president, 28/Oct/05

CONGO: Hunter-gatherers face starvation following a hunting ban, 28/Oct/05

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