“Remember, remember ... never forget ... those days of tears, nightmares, these rivers of blood, when ours were being exterminated ... remember ...” — Rwandan song
As many people were preparing for Easter, some of us have been caught up with memories of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
A lucky few of us survived those horrors; others became the powerless witnesses of the genocide unfolding.
In Rwanda, we lost 1 million innocent people. This is not just a number: It represents my great grandfather, who was 84 years old, my grandparents from both sides, uncles, aunts and most of my cousins.
Today, the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the beginning of the commemoration week in Rwanda, the day they started killing our people 16 years ago, I would like to ask you: “Do you remember what you were doing?”
I was in primary school, living in this huge building packed with Rwandan refugees in Bujumbura-Burundi, where we had to rent two small rooms for eight people. It was the second time that I had to flee death threats. The first time was between 1989 and 1991, when I was told that I wasn’t a human being and I was called a snake and/or a cockroach. In my country at that time, I had no rights. Three years later, in 1994, I had to watch on TV as others from the same ethnic background as me were exterminated. They weren’t as lucky as my family and I: We fled Rwanda a few months before. Those who were called “snakes” and “cockroaches” were members of our families and our friends.
During that time in April 1994, my everyday life was going to school, coming back home, helping with the cleaning, cooking, babysitting my two younger siblings, helping with other chores and doing my homework ... then watching the genocide on TV news, hoping that someone would stop it, praying and hoping that our families and others would escape the killings, or somehow survive. This turned out to be too much to ask for.
Two months after April 1994, we started to hear from our uncles and aunts who had survived the genocide. They recounted every detail of it. We could not escape it anymore. We had to face the reality: The world had left us to die. By its indifference and/or its passivity, it was as if the world was saying that it was all right to kill us, the snakes, the cockroaches. The world gave to the killers the right to exterminate my loved ones, my family, and my friends who were among the 1 million innocent people who lost their lives simply for being Tutsi.
The only thing that we could do was watch them in their agony, watch them on TV being killed, hoping someone would finally stop the killings. So many times we wished that they would shoot them instead of cutting them with machetes. This might sound weird, but believe me: This was an important wish to make for those we loved, so that they could at least escape being killed in a horrendous way.
It took three endless months to stop the genocide against the Tutsi, 100 days of an uninterrupted nightmare. Those who stopped the genocide brought us back to humanity, and they made history. They succeeded where the 1948 Genocide Convention failed, where the whole international community failed. They are our heroes, humanity’s unsung heroes. They deserve the highest honors. They are ordinary people, ordinary courageous people who simply believed that everyone has the right to live, free from racism, prejudices and discrimination of any kind. We cannot forget those Hutu who died while trying to help and hide Tutsi, those Hutu who died because they refused to fail in their moral responsibility: They were and are heroic.
As for the killers, I would like to ask you: What are you doing now? What have you gained now that you have killed thousands? What have you gained except losing your humanity?
How about you, the indifferent and passive individual or leaders? Are you at peace? Have you acknowledged your failures? You knew what was happening — you damn well knew it —so do not try to explain your indifference by saying that you did not know. And now, will you ask for forgiveness? It is the least and the most honorable thing you can now do.
For those who didn’t know: Now that you do know what happened to the Tutsi 16 years ago, how does it affect your daily life? Are you now paying more attention to what goes on in the world and around you? Do you know that you can still do something to create change and to make this world a better place? You can also still support survivors by joining the many different associations that are trying to help them make it, trying to help them live again. Also, you have the power to make your voice heard by your leaders and urge them that you do not want your country to be a safe haven for killers.
As for survivors, our legacy is to testify for our loved ones, for all those who perished. Remembering allows us to do our best, to still believe in human kindness, in humanity.
For those who survived, for those who remember and for those who care, we invite you to remember those innocent people, to think about where you were between April and July 1994.
Rosine Urujeni is a student at Viterbo University.