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“It’s a healing process. Any history that is not told is an abuse to humanity. You do an injustice to yourself to not tell your story. The general outcome of [recording survivor testimonies] is that we will be teaching the young generation to respect humanity. To respect their fellow human beings. To live in harmony with one another.”
– Gabo Wilson, SURF (Rwanda Survivors Fund), to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.
100 Days of Slaughter
Tensions had been mounting between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes of Rwanda for decades, but the violence escalated when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was mysteriously shot down on April 6, 1994. While both sides held the other responsible for the assassination, the majority Hutu Presidential Guard began hunting down and slaughtering political opponents.
The mass killings occurred in two phases. First, lists of targeted people were distributed to death squads. Then, two days later, militias were ordered to exterminate every Tutsi. For three months, the equivalent of at least six men, women and children were murdered every minute of every hour of every day.
In addition, tens of thousands women were raped during this time, the majority of them becoming infected with HIV, which was in many cases intentionally spread as a weapon of genocide.
Bodies literally piled up in the streets. Hutus forbade burying of the dead. Neighbors killed neighbors. Roadblocks were set up to find Tutsis in order to slaughter them. Local churches supported the violence in documented word and in complicit silence, but also in carrying out some of the biggest mass executions of that time. Hutus who refused to participate in the killings were extinguished themselves.
From April to July in 1994, approximately 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were massacred in the Rwandan genocide.
The worst of the brutality began to wane on July 4, 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) a trained military group of previously exiled Tutsis, took control of Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
In the last two decades, the United Nations has conducted more than 70 tribunal cases in an attempt bring perpetrators of the genocide to justice. Rwandan courts have tried up to 20,000 individuals, and the country’s Gacaca (community) courts have handled some 1.2 million additional cases.
A coalition government called The Broad Based Government of National Unity was established following the end of the genocide. The first post-war election was held in 2003. The country today focuses on building economic opportunities and growth. Any form of discrimination by ethnicity, race or religion is prohibited by law.
Incredibly, Tutsis and Hutus, survivors and former killers, now live side by side.
But survivors are still struggling with the legacy of what they endured, how much they lost, what it means to remember, and to forgive.
Healing: Remembering and Forgiving
“For a genocide survivor, reconciliation is personal,” Kizito Kalima told the Indianpolis Nuvo in 2012. Kalima witnessed the massacre of his entire family in Rwanda, and survived himself, injured, by hiding beneath a pile of bodies.
Today, he is the Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit Peace Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, based in Indiana.
“Of course, our government has a beautiful policy that says, you need to forgive and move forward,” Kalima continued. “But that's easier said than done ─ and who's telling you to do that, someone who's never been through what you've been through? The most important thing is when regular people, individually, decide to reconcile and forgive. Once you forgive, you feel free ─ and from there, you live your normal life.”
A crucial piece of forgiveness is remembering. Kalima recalled his experiences of living through the genocide in an audio-visual recording interview with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute as part of its Visual History Archive.
In 2008, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute partnered with IBUKA, the umbrella organization representing survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide.* Together, the groups made a commitment to conduct, record, collect and share testimonies of witnesses and survivors of the atrocity.
This partnership formed with the goal to not only preserve the testimonies but also to use them, along with the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses contained in the Institute’s archive, to develop educational programs for use throughout the world.
“Forgiveness is the only way forward in these matters,” Tutsi survivor Valerie Nyirarudodo insisted in her USC Shoah Foundation Institute testimony (view a segment of her interview here). “We must help one another. We must learn to live together in unity in good times, in good times as they once were.”
*ProQuest is honored to be in partnership with USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive to offer this material in its entirety to a broader audience and to contribute archival-quality transcripts of all of the testimonies. Learn more and see the testimonials.