Most of us have a past life we never wish to remember. For some, it could be an incident of embarrassment or a scene from the teenage years when we struggled to fit in. But to many genocide survivors, these would-rather-be-forgotten incidences are truly horrific, as they include images of mass murder and rapes mixed with the desperate, all too human, struggle to survive. Overcome by a thirst for healing, amnesia is often the only option for the victims trying to lay haunting pasts to rest.
Towards the end of 1996, the Rwandan Patriotic Army having gained credit for putting an end to the Rwandan Genocide invaded the Congo (then known as Zaire). It would soon become apparent though that the new Rwandan army was on a killing spree, targeting mostly Hutu civilians.
When under scrutiny, the new Rwandan government (GOR) defended its mission always citing the difficult nature of the operation. They (GOR) said it had been difficult to distinguish civilians from the EX-FAR and Interahamwe. Indeed, this school of thought prevailed for the last decade and outside of academic circles, remained unchallenged. However, one striking question remained unanswered: “why were Hutu-Congolese murdered?” to this day, the government of Rwanda has been unable to provide a convincing response.
The first serious inquiry was blocked by the war lord turned into president, Laurent Kabila. However, after he fell out with Rwanda, he would later remark “I never understood how people (Tutsi soldiers) having suffered Genocide would kill like this”.
That Congolese-Hutu were targeted is not the only evidence for Genocide. Excerpts from the “leaked report” reveal how children and women were deliberately targeted. Accused of no other crime but for being Hutu. Consider this chilling report by US journalist French Howard writing for the New York Times in September 1997:
In Loukolela, the Hutu survivors who have gathered across the Congo River from the former Zaire, 200 miles northeast of Kinshasa, say they know little about the conflict that pits the United Nations against Mr. Kabila's Government.
What they do have, however, are consistent accounts of the murderous attacks that they suffered in the Mbandaka area, as well as at several other stops during their westward trek of more than 1,000 miles across the country.
Mrs. Mporayonzi remembers wandering the woods after the attack had subsided, and said she was taken in by a Zairian family to whom she owes her survival. They told her that she looked enough like the local people to pass undetected, gave her a white bandanna to wear, in the fashion townspeople had adopted as a sign of support for Mr. Kabila, and urged her not to talk to people.
The next day, while she stood in front of the house where she had taken refuge, Mrs. Mporayonzi said a truckload of solders drove by and then stopped. She had feared they were looking for her, but instead they grabbed a Hutu boy on the street.
She said they yelled, ''Here is another son of Habyarimana,'' referring Juvenal Habyarimana, the Hutu former President of Rwanda. ''Right there in the road the soldiers swung the boy by his feet and beat his head against a tree trunk until he was dead.''
Mrs. Mporayonzi said she turned away in horror but had to bite her hand to keep from screaming for fear of giving herself away.
And from the “The Guardian”:
'A soldier brought an eight-month-old (Hutu) baby so we could bury him,' said a Red Cross worker. 'But we said, "We can't bury someone living". He took a stick and he hit the child on the head until he was dead.'
Important to note is that some of the killing happened as far as Mbandaka which is approximately 758 miles from the eastern border of Congo where the refugees initially camped. The exhausted and hungry refugees having walked all these many miles were finally captured by the Rwandan forces and slaughtered, their bodies dumped into river Congo. This was witnessed and reported by international humanitarian organizations as well as Congolese communal groups.
While killings close to the Rwandan border could perhaps be justified, it is especially difficult to understand why the Rwanda forces would kill civilians on the opposite end of the country (Zaire). Also, by this time, Kabila forces had triumphed marking an end to the civil war. The killings do point to a deliberate and cruel attempt at extermination.
Also, in some noted cases, Congolese civilians were forced to participate in the massacres and were rewarded with cash.
However in certain instances, only males were targeted, while women would be allowed to repatriate to Rwanda. Here is an account from Professor Boyer:
They [Tutsi soldiers] separated the little boys from the girls...And they started killing the boys. First they shot them, and then they cut them in half. So that...if they came back to life they wouldn't be able to escape.
Of course this is just but the beginning of another difficult battle. Although the “leaked report” is a major victory for us as survivors, the struggle is far from over. There needs to be a mechanism to prevent “retributive genocide” from taking place. Counter-Genocide needs to be acknowledged (just like Genocide denial) as another step of Genocide. This will help not only Rwanda but many conflict ridden nations around the world.
Equally important is that the report can be instrumental in fostering genuine reconciliation in Rwanda. One of the key challenges of present Rwanda is that western analysts are stuck in the “bad guys vs. good guys” mentality. They forget that the majority of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa are good people trying to overcome extremely difficult realities. The notion becomes a stumbling block as the present regime is given a green light (Genocide credit) to repress its Hutu citizens who are considered Genocide perpetrators. This has provided huge political capital for former rebel Paul Kagame—and the recent elections is just but another confirmation.
My genuine hope is that Rwandans will find this report as an opportunity for reflection that would be transformed into action.
The government reaction towards the report though predictable is very unfortunate. Simply attacking the researchers and methodology used will not do away these crimes. Threatening to withdraw Rwandan peace-keepers from Darfur, if the report is released, will only prove the RPF's guilt.It would be more beneficial to respond to the specific allegations--and tell your side of the story.
For once, as Rwandans let not squander another opportunity for national healing.