Monday, October 11, 2010

Survivors of Congo genocide speak out

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Testimonies of survivors of Congo’s genocide are beginning to gain media coverage. France 24 did an interview (in English) with Marie Beatrice Umutesi. She is the author of Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire. Her book is a must read for anyone interested in gaining a broader knowledge on the circumstances surrounding these killings.

Umutesi herself survived but this wasn’t until she trekked over 2,000 miles from eastern Congo to Kinshasa. Through the assistance of a Dutch colleague, she fled from Kinshasa to Brussels where she lives to this day. Her reflection was used as a guiding source by the UN investigative team.

As a warning, her account is very bare and graphic due to her desire to fully account for the horrors that transpired. There is no flowery way to explain genocide.

The story told is a typical one for those living in this region. The RPA army called for meetings (kwitaba inama) and those who showed up for the meeting would face extermination (kwitaba imana). Readers who are familiar with Rwanda know that the name Inama (meeting) and Imana (God) have a traumatizing meaning for most us.

When someone dies in Rwanda, the locals say that the person has obeyed God’s call (kwitaba imana). Similarly, when someone shows up for a meeting, the person has obeyed the leaders call (kwitaba inama). During the post genocide period, showing up for a meeting meant showing up for death; thus, kwitaba inama became kwitaba imana.

Anyway, below is the testimony of Matata Ihigihugo:

"They killed all my people. I have no life left," she said

She objected to being asked to name her massacred family. "Why do you ask me to call out the names of those who are dead?" she demanded. "There can be no peace for me until they are properly buried."

As for the mass graves, she said:

"There can be no rest for people buried like that.” “Giving a proper burial to my family also would put my heart at rest."

The interview reveals what I have often emphasized: the fact that the international community recognizes these killings is very important to survivors. Second, is the question of justice.

In the same piece we are also informed that the killings were well known and that the UN participated in a possible cover up of the war crimes. The first investigations showing that forces under Gen. Paul Kagame committed these atrocities were completely kept under the rag.

Observers find a link between impunity and the current violence that has devastated eastern Congo. Had the criminals been pursued 12 years ago, perhaps this action might have deterred Rwanda’s involvement—including its support for proxy militias such as Laurent nkunda’s CNDP.

Lastly, I end with words from Reed Brody who is the former UN deputy investigator:

"The question now is the same question there was then: Is there the political will to identify the killers and bring them to justice?"

"The fact that these killings of tens of thousands, if not more, went utterly unpunished, the fact that there was clearly not the political will to identify the authors of these massacres and to bring them to justice, has facilitated the cycle of violence,"

We only hope that the international community will not fail the victims once more.

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