Thursday, 5 April 2007

6 April: Remembering the Rwandan Genocide

MK: Friday the 6th of April 2007 will mark the 13th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Please take a few minutes on this day to remember all those that died, were maimed, and/or were affected by the hands of the genocidaires during those famous 100 days in Rwanda in 1994.

The stain of genocide is ever-present in Rwanda

Charles Gordon
The Edmonton Journal
Sunday, April 01, 2007

BUTARE, Rwanda - The taxi is not supposed to be on the road this morning and the driver has to do some fast talking to the policeman who pulls him over. The driver explains that he is taking his passenger to the genocide memorial at Murambi, 28 kilometres away. The policeman lets the taxi pass.

Every Wednesday it's gacaca day in Butare, a day when a citizens' court meets to decide the fate of people accused of crimes against their neighbours during the genocide of 1994. During the morning on Gacaca day, all business ceases.

There is no getting away from the genocide this day, if there ever is. The first stretch of road goes beside a valley in which men wearing pink uniforms are working.

They are prisoners, some of whom will have their gacaca moments and others of whom already have. The following day, at the National University, there is to be a conference on "France and the 1994 Rwanda Genocide." All classes are suspended, by order of the rector, to allow students and faculty to attend the event, during which La Marseillaise will not be not sung.

On Friday, it is the 13th anniversary of the start of the genocide. On April 6, 1994, the president's plane was shot down and this became the pretext for a slaughter that began immediately, so well had it been planned in advance.

For three months, people were murdered, with the enthusiastic support of the state, at the rate of 9,000 a day. The international community watched, didn't see and certainly didn't act.

Every year, there is a week of remembrance in Rwanda. All entertainment and recreational activities will close for the afternoon on Saturday, the second day of Genocide Memorial Week. University classes are not held for two weeks.

In one of those small-world coincidences, a man now on trial in Montreal for genocide is from Butare, the city where the university is located. The university has its own genocide memorial on the campus, in which photographs of about 150 students who died are displayed. That represents about half the death toll.

At Murambi, a former technical school three kilometres down a long dirt road from the town of Gikongoro, there is a lot of activity. A metal fence is being constructed and the main building is being painted. This is because Murambi is host to the ceremonies on April 7.

Some women are seated on the ground working and you can hear them laugh. Looking over you see that beside them, on a tarpaulin, are bones and skulls. In Rwanda, the genocide and everyday life are side by side.

Outside the first room in one of a dozen long, low brick buildings, pop music is playing on somebody's portable radio. The room is full of decomposed bodies covered in lime.

The room was a classroom. Now it has four large platforms on the floor, each covered with bodies in the poses in which they died. You are led to the next room and see more, and then to the next, then to another building with more rooms. One room contains nothing but the remains of children, some with holes in their skulls.

There is a room with just skulls and bones, another room in which clothes, most of them red, probably from the dirt, hang on lines.

Somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 people were at Murambi in April 1994, told by the authorities that they would be safe there. Then the militias came, threw grenades into the rooms and finished their work with machetes. It took four days.

Of those killed, 27,000 have been exhumed and reburied; 1,800, or parts of the 1,800, are on display. The rest are in mass graves. French troops installed themselves at the site in the aftermath of the genocide. On top of one of the mass graves they constructed a volleyball court.

It is a little detail that will live on, bitterly savoured by generations of Rwandans.

There is no signage in these rooms at Murambi, no panel displays, no narration. A woman who speaks no English and a little French shows you from room to room, offering no commentary. After two buildings she is replaced by a man, who is a survivor and has a deep hole in his forehead.

Neither of them says much, which is all right. Maybe it's better if there is nobody to explain it.

Charles Gordon is teaching at the National University of Rwanda as part of the Carleton University School of Journalism's Rwanda Initiative. © The Edmonton Journal 2007

Melanie's Collection of photos of Rwanda and Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre. More photos can be viewed at Camera_Rwanda's Flickr set.

The national ceremony, under the theme 'We should remember the plight of genocide survivors while fighting for their justice', will be presided over by President Paul Kagame at Murambi in Southern Province on Saturday the 7th of April 2007.

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