Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial
September 20, 2010

Outside of the capital, Kigali, Rwanda is split along geographical lines into four provinces. Each province is divided into districts which are then further sub divided into sectors.

I am living and working in Kirehe District which is in the Eastern Province.  The two schools that I will be supporting are in Nyarubuye Sector.

Nyarubuye Sector has a genocide memorial centre about forty minutes by moto-taxi from Nyakarambi. Yesterday afternoon Dorothy arranged a visit for the four new VSO volunteers plus a near neighbour, Kyle from New York State, who is placed at a nearby secondary school through the World Teach programme.     

There was another bone shaking cross-country scramble, in convoy, during which the moto carrying John developed  throttle problems grinding to a halt on one of the steep ascents and causing him to slip off the back, the first of us to bite the dust.  Fortunately it was just a matter of hurt pride.  

The Nyarubuye memorial is centred on a large red brick church and what was an adjoining convent. 51,000 genocide victims have been laid to rest in a mass graves nearby. Bodies continue to be recovered and buried, even now, 16 years on.

Although they were only 20 km or so from the safety of the Tanzanian border, rather than fleeing the country, a large number of Tutsis from this region had sought refuge in the church and the convent in the belief that it would afford them sanctuary.

Unfortunately this was not the case and 5000 of them were massacred in a single day. Our guide described in some detail the barbaric way in which victims were defiled and slaughtered. The convent now houses piles of clothes belonging to the victims, implements with which they were tortured and slaughtered and cases full of broken skulls and bones – lest anyone should forget or attempt refute what happened.

Mounted on the front of the church is a statue of Christ with arms outstretched. One of his hands is missing. There is a belief by some that it fell away because the hand of God was unable to prevent such apalling acts of genocide.

UN Inquiry into Rwandan genocide revenge claims…..
August 31, 2010

An article in yesterday’s Times, under the heading Peace threat over genocide revenge report, claims that leaks from a soon to be published UN Inquiry may call, recently re-elected, President Paul Kagame’s Tutsi led government to account for its actions in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 genocide.   

Kagame declared winner of the Rwandan presidential election, held earlier this month, with 93% of the vote, has recently come under increased scrutiny from the international community.

Human rights groups and observers have been critical of political repression during a campaign from which critical opposition parties were barred.     

A press release by the White House Security Council, whilst acknowledging the progress made by Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, raised concerns over a number of disturbing events including the arrest of journalists, the suspension of certain newspapers, the banning of two opposition parties from taking part in the election and the expulsion of a human rights researcher.

There were also acts of violence, including the murder of an opposition official, in which the government steadfastly denies any in involvement.    

Kagame seized power in the wake of the 1994 ethnic genocide in which 800,000 Rwandans (mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus) were slaughtered at the behest of the former Hutu dominated government.

The international community’s belated and guilty response to the atrocities has been to provide Kagame’s Tutsi led government with unprecedented levels of aid. 

Kagame has also received high-profile commendation, from leading figures such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Bill Gates, for the way he has unified the country and masterminded its recovery.  

He responded to mounting criticism from western observers, following the recent elections, in an article for the Financial Times, published under the heading Rwanda’s democracy is still the model for Africa.

In it he claims that whilst few would doubt Rwanda’s rapid social and economic progress they fail to acknowledge the success of its political evolution.

The thrust of his argument for maintaining such an authoritarian grip on the country is that competitive democracy can only be possible following a sustained period of social cohesion.

He wrote that, although the healing and reconciliation process has made great progress, no country with Rwanda’s recent history can be expected to move from genocide to confrontational politics within such a short space of time.   

He further claims it was pluralistic politics spawning newly formed parties with a common extremist ideology that succeeded in mobilising the population to commit mass murder.  

However, when the findings of the UN inquiry are officially released, next month, it is likely they will lead to a rewriting of the current widely accepted historical account of the Rwandan genocide, which may in turn negatively impact on further foreign support for Kagame’s regime.

The report apparently carries detailed information of reprisals carried out by the Rwandan army, whilst under Kagame’s watch, as they pursued Hutu refugees into neighbouring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).    

The revelations may lead to calls for Tutsi leaders, for so long portrayed as the heroes and victims of the genocide, to be prosecuted for their actions.

The Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo has already communicated with the UN Secretary General and is quoted as denouncing the report as ‘incredibly irresponsible’ and ‘fatally flawed’.

Should the report be published, Rwanda is already threatening to withdraw from UN peacekeeping forces.

Whilst the truth is paramount and needs to be known, it is essential that this report provides an impartial, fair and accurate account of events, and is delivered in such a way that it does not threaten to destabilise the current levels of social cohesion within Rwanda or derail its remarkable recovery.  

If it does my VSO stint might turn out to be shorter than anticipated!