The Rwandan genocide 20 years later – Living with the irreparable

April 7 marked to official launch of a hundred days of events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. I spent two days at a conference titled “Growing up with the irreparable”, which features panels of academics and survivors. The stories of survivors are certainly what affected me the most.

Those who survived say that it is impossible to put words on their experience. However, I found the way they described the horrors of the genocide extremely powerful. Each of them has their own way of describing it and I want to transcribe them here in order to emphasize our responsibility to prevent future genocide.


Testimony 1: Atanasie

We don’t know how to explain the pain we live with and carry. There are no words to describe the genocide against the Batutsis. I carry the seal. The word “irreparable” is like a rope that has been broken into several pieces and cannot be repaired. There is no service for that. The shock exists, persists and will always persist. At every shock, I fall to the ground. The month of April destroys me. It would be better if there were no month of April.

God has given me the chance to survive so I must try to live like others. I try to live like others but it is difficult to feel like the Atanasie I was before the genocide. There are two people in me: the Atanasie before the genocide, who is strong, and the Atanasie after the genocide, who has been ripped apart. I try to live with both. I must reconcile the past, the present and the future.


Testimony 2 (13 years old in 1994)

I’m not a survivor because I lived abroad at the time but in a way I am a survivor because my mother’s entire family has been killed. For me the irreparable is the people I have lost…I should not even use the word “lost” because they have been exterminated.

I do not want to accept that there is something broken in me. I’m part of the second generation and I want to believe in reparation. I feel divided between what my parents had to endure since the 1960s and the new generation today. I carry the wounds but I want to make the transition between my parents’ live story and the new Rwanda.

In the diaspora, we are divided. I grew up with Tutsis and the division is still there. In the diaspora, we have a tendency to put the Good on one side and the Bad on the other side. I want to go further and have reconciliation. I think reconciliation can happen in my generation but you cannot force my mother to accept reconciliation, especially since a lot of the killers have no regrets. Reconciliation is personal. I feel that I can do it.


Testimony 3 (28 years old in 1994)

For me, being a survivor is emptiness, absence. I have no images, no picture. This is the irreparable. All I have left of my father is loincloth. When April comes, I wash it, iron it and put it away.

Anxiety is my companion. I wake up in the middle of the night to make sure that my child is still breathing. This is the irreparable

We are violent towards ourselves in order to repress our sentiments, in order not to expose ourselves, in order not to bare ourselves and cry. We don’t want to get these feelings out. This is the irreparable.

I could not act. This is the irreparable

The irreparable is living with the smell of rotting human bodies for the past 20 years.

The irreparable is having to live with the culpability of having survived when others have not. I feel guilty that the last words I said to my father were not more tender. I wish I could have found something nicer to say.

Sometimes I hear “How come you were not killed in 1994.” As if would be more convenient if I had. Hearing this from Tutsis make me want to go on. I have a responsibility towards my family and towards the survivors.



Testimony 4 (8 years old in 1994)

April is the season of sadness, the season of memory, the season of courage.

The irreparable are the smells, the scenes, the words that come back unannounced, for no reason.

I remember the sound of the plane crashing. We thought it was a grenade and went into hiding.

I remember the first person I saw being killed, the first person I saw being raped. I remember seeing by mother among dead bodies searching for my father’s body.

I remember the words of those who committed these acts. They seemed relieved to live in a world where Tutsis would no longer exist. Even those who did not kill were relieved. This is the essence of genocide.

The irreparable is not being able to say the words “dad.” The sad truth is: when we are survivors we wish we could be like everybody else.

I wish we had been given as space to speak clearly about what we went through. When we speak about the genocide, it’s like speaking about a complex subject. But for us, it is qui simple to explain. We just want to be given a space to tell about our truth.

Your challenge now is to take up a pen and to write your story as you know it and feel it. To repair the irreparable we must change our way to think and speak. Nobody can take our truth from us unless we tell them.

Testimony 5

The irreparable is definitive. It’s not like a fracture one can weld. I have a scar where the machete struck. This wound accompanies me. When I see it, I’m immediately back where I was on that day. I lived in Bisero where only 800 out of 60 000 Tutsis survived. My father survived but today he can barely speak. The day I saw my father again after being separated, I did not recognize him and I promised myself that I would live. We tried to reconstruct ourselves. I carried my father’s misery, his pain, his despair. He used to be a dignified, upright man but I became like his mother. I carried him on my back or held him by the hand, and tried to be strong in front of him.

Living became our vengeance. Studying became my vengeance. I move to Canada and earned several degrees. I wish you the best and most beautiful vengeance. They failed. Live continues. We are the proof. This is the challenge: to raise you head and stand upright.

Testimony 6

Those who lived in the diaspora at the time also carry the irreparable. My Rwandan friends in Rwanda and where I lived, kept counting the dead while my entire family here was safe. I felt guilty that I cannot find the words to comfort them. It was like a reproach “Your parents are doing well”

What I want to transmit to my children is that we did not respond to hate by hate. Instead we continued to live and are proud of who we are.

Testimony 8: Eugène (26 years old at the time)

The irreparable is having to knead my pain every morning with tears that are struggling to fall. It is also the smell of rotting carcasses that impregnate my clothes.

The genocide for me are these moments of complete absurdity where one ceases to be human. One just becomes the product of a slaughter.

I debated for a long time whether I had the right to live because all my friend had been exterminated, all my family had been exterminated. I didn’t think I had the right until the day I realized that by refusing to live I agreed with the murderers. I agreed with the murdered who assassinated my family. I had to stand up again. We must accept that life continues. That it does not stop because one génocidaire decided that it had to.

“Forgiveness” is not part of my vocabulary. I will forgive if someone asks me for forgiveness but I cannot forgive in the void.

The members of United Nations have to change to way they protect humanity, if this is indeed their mission. If they intervene, if they act or if they simply give up and we will say “We let evil triumph –“

Testimony 9: Arlette

The plane crashed in the night and the next day we had become snakes, insects to eliminate. When you wake up in the morning and you’re looking for the next person to kill, you are no longer human – you’re an animal. Usually when somebody dies, you are sad and you cry. But death had become so trivial that we would see a person die and it had become something normal. We could not cry because we did not have the right to. We though “I’ll be next”

My biggest fear is how to tell that story to my son. How do I transmit it so as to keep the memory alive but without transmitting the hate?

I think there’s no reconciliation because we do not have to reconcile. There are two communities who live in separate corners but there is mistrust, great, great mistrust.



Génocide Rwandais – Vivre avec l’irréparable

Le 7 avril marquait le début de 100 jours de commémoration du 20ème anniversaire du génocide rwandais contre les Tutsis. J’ai passé deux jours à une conférence sur « Vivre avec l’irréparable » qui comprenait des présentations données par des chercheurs et des survivants ou familles de survivants. C’est ces témoignages qui m’ont le plus touché.

Les rescapés expriment souvent l’impossibilité de mettre des mots sur le génocide, sur leur expérience. Mais j’ai trouvé la manière dont ils décrivaient l’horreur très percutante. Chacun avait sa manière d’en parler et je veux retranscrire leurs paroles ici afin de souligner notre responsabilité à faire plus d’efforts afin de prévenir de futur génocide.


Témoignage 1 – Atanasie

Nous ne savons pas comment décrire la douleur qui nous habite. Il n’ya pas de mot pour décrire le génocide contre les Batutsis. Je porte le cachet. Le mot irréparable c’est une ligne continue qui a été coupé en morceau par morceau de telle manière qu’on ne peut pas reconstruire la corde. Il n’y a pas de service pour réparer ça. Le choc existe, persiste et persistera pour toujours. Au moindre choc je suis à terre. Le mois d’avril me détruit. Si il n’y avait pas le mois d’avril, ce serait mieux.

J’essaie de vivre comme les autres. C’est difficile de me sentir comme l’Atanasie d’avant. En moi il y a deux personnes, l’Atanasie d’avant le génocide qui est forte et l’Atanasie d’après qui est déchirée. J’essaie de vivre avec les deux personnes en moi. Dieu m’a donné la chance de survivre alors je dois essayer de vivre comme les autres

Il faut concilier, le présent, le future et le passé


Témoignage 2 (13 ans à l’époque)

Je ne suis pas une rescapée, je vivais en Suisse mais d’une côté je le suis car toute la famille de ma mère est décédée. Moi je n’ai jamais vécu là-bas. Pour moi l’irréparable c’est tous ces gens que j’ai perdu. Je ne devrais même pas utilisé le mot perdre car ils se sont fait exterminer.

J’ai vite appris qu’il y avait Hutu et Tutsi, mauvais et gentils. C’est comme ça que je l’ai vécu en Suisse. Je ne veux pas accepter que j’ai quelque de briser en moi qui ne peux pas être réparer. Je fais partie de la deuxième génération et je veux croire en une réparation. J’aimerais que mes enfants aient quelque chose de plus. On est partagé entre ce que nos parents ont vécu depuis les années 1960 et la nouvelle génération. Je porte les blessures mais j’aimerai pouvoir faire la transition entre son vécu et ce nouveau Rwanda.

Dans la diaspora, on est très divisés. J’ai grandi avec des Tutsis et la division est toujours là. Dans la diaspora on a tendance de mettre les mauvais d’un côté et les bons de l’autre. Je veux aller plus loin faire la réconciliation. Je pense que la réconciliation peut se faire plus à notre génération qu’à la votre. On ne peut pas forcer ma mère à la réconciliation. Surtout que beaucoup ne le regrette pas. C’est personnel. En ce qui me concerne je peux le faire.


Témoignage 3 (28 ans à l’époque)

 Pour moi être rescapé c’est le vide, c’est l’absence. Je n’ai pas d’image, pas de photos. C’est irréparable. Tout ce qui me reste c’est un pagne de mon père. Quand avril approche, je le lave, je le repasse et je le range. C’est ça l’irréparable.

L’angoisse est mon compagnon. Je réveille au milieu de la nuit pour voir si mon enfant respire encore. C’est ça l’irréparable

L’irréparable c’est se faire violence chaque jour pour réprimer ce sentiment afin de ne pas s’exposer, de ne pas se mettre à nu, de ne pas pleurer. On ne veut pas sortir ces sentiments. Ça c’est l’irréparable.

Je ne pouvais pas agir. Ça c’est l’irréparable

L’irréparable c’est aussi vivre avec la culpabilité. Coupable de vivre alors que les autres ne vivent plus. Coupable de savoir que la dernière parole qu’on a eu avec son père n’ont pas été les plus tendres. J’aurai voulu trouver quelque chose de plus tendre à lui dire.

C’est aussi entendre dire « comment ça se fait que tu n’as pas été tué en 1994 » ? Comme si, si j’avais été tué, cela aurait arrangé quelqu’un. Entendre cela de la part de Tutsi, ça me donne la force d’avancer. Que vaut la vie après le génocide si elle n’est pas vécue dans l’amitié. J’ai des responsabilités envers ma famille, les survivants


Témoignage 4 (8 ans à l’époque)

Avril c’est la saison de la tristesse et de la mémoire, une saison de courage.

L’irréparable c’est les odeurs, les scènes, les mots qui reviennent sans préavis sans raisons particulières.

Je me rappelle des bruits de l’avion qui est tombé. Mes parents nous en réveillé, on a cru que c’était un grenade.

Je me rappelle la première fois que le première personne que j’ai vu une personne abattue, une personne violée. La fois ou j’ai vu ma mère au milieu de corps à la recherche du corps de mon père. Je me souviens des mots de ceux qui commettaient ces actes. Ils semblaient en paix dans un monde dans lequel les Tutsis n’existaient pas. Même ceux qui ne participait pas au génocide. C’est ça l’essence du génocide.

L’irréparable c’est ne pas avoir la chance de dire le mot « papa ». Quand on est rescapé on aimerait être comme tout le monde et ça c’est la triste vérité.

On aurait du créer un espace dans lequel on aurait pu parler clairement de ce qu’on a vécu. Quand on parle du génocide en Kinyarwanda c’est comme parler de dossier complexe. Hors pour nous c’est simple à expliquer. On veut simplement énoncer ma vérité comme on l’a vécu. Notre défi c’est de prendre un stylo et d’écrire l’histoire comme on la connait au fin fond de votre cœur. Pour réparez l’irréparable il faut changer notre façon de penser et de parler. Personne ne peut nous prendre notre vérité à moins qu’on ne leur dise.


Témoignage 5

L’irréparable c’est définitif. C’est pas comme une fracture que l’on peut souder. J’ai une cicatrice là où la machette m’a blessé. Cette blessure m’accompagne. Quand je la regarde, je replonge là où j’étais ce jour là. Je vivais à Bisero où 800 parmi 60 000 tutsis ont survécu. Mon père a survécu mais aujourd’hui il ne sait pas parler plus de deux minutes.

Quand j’ai revu mon père après avoir été séparé de lui, je ne l’ai pas reconnu.  Quand j’ai vu mon père je me suis promis que j’allais vivre alors qu’avant je ne voulais pas.

On a essayé de se reconstruire. Je portais mon père avec sa misère, sa douleur, son désespoir. Il avait été un homme digne, droit. Maintenant j’étais devenu comme sa mère. Je le portais parfois sur mon dos, je le prenais par la main. Devant lui je me montrais forte. Vivre était notre façon de se venger. Je gardais la tête haute. Mes études c’est ma vengeance. Je vous souhaite la vengeance la plus belle. La vie continue, nous en sommes la preuve. C’est ça le défi : de lever la tête, se tenir debout.


Témoignage 6

Ceux qui n’étaient pas au Rwanda en 1994 portent aussi l’irréparable en eux. J’avais des amis rwandais là où je vivais qui chaque jour apprenaient que leurs familles, leurs amis avaient été tué. L’irréparable, c’est la culpabilité que l’on ressent quand on n’a pas de mots pour réconforter les gens. C’était comme un reproche « Toi tes parents vont bien »

Ce que je veux transmettre à mes enfants c’est de ne pas avoir répondu à la haine par la haine mais par la vie et la fierté de ce qu’on est


Témoignage 7 (26 ans à l’époque) – Eugène

L’irréparable c’est pétrir ma peine chaque matin avec des larmes qui peinent à couler. C’est aussi l’odeur de la charogne humaine qui envahi mes vêtements.

Le génocide pour moi c’est tous ces moments d’absurdité où on cesse d’être humain. Tout simplement un produit de boucherie

J’ai débattu pendant longtemps si j’avais le droit de vivre parce que tous mes compagnons avaient été éliminés, toute ma famille avait été éliminée. Je pensais que je n’avais pas le droit. Jusqu’au jour où je me suis rendu compte qu’en refusant de vivre je donnais raisons à on assassin. Je donnais raison à ceux qui ont assassinés ma famille. Il fallait me remettre debout. On doit accepter que la vie continue. Qu’elle ne s’arrête pas juste parce qu’un génocidaire l’a décidé

Le pardon n’est pas un mot qui existe dans mon vocabulaire. Je pardonnerai si on me demandait pardon mais je ne peux pas pardonner dans le vide

Il faut que les Nations Unies changent leur manière de protéger l’humanité si ils se donnent la mission. Si ils interviennent, si ils agissent ou bien tout simplement ils renoncent et on dira « On a laissez le mal triompher »


Témoignage 8 (18 ans à l’époque) : Arlette

L’avion est tombé la nuit et le lendemain on est devenu des serpents, des insectes à éliminés. Quand on se lève le matin à la recherche de la prochaine personne à tué on n’est plus humain, on devient un animal. D’habitude une personne meurt et on a de la tristesse, on pleur. Là c’était devenu tellement banal qu’on regardait une personne mourir  et c’était la chose normale. On ne pouvait pas pleurer parce qu’on avait plus le droit. On se disait « c’est moi la prochaine personne qui vais être tuée. »

Ma plus grande crainte c’est comment je raconte ça à mon fils. Comment on lui transmet ça pour qu’il puisse quand même garder la mémoire mais sans lui transmettre la haine.

Selon moi il n’y a pas de réconciliation parce qu’on n’est pas obligé de se réconcilier. Il y a deux communautés qui vivent chacune de leur coin mais il y a une méfiance, une grande, grande méfiance



Conflict Minerals in the DRC: Why Western Legislation Isn’t the Only Answer

An article I wrote for the Canadian International Council

At a recent conference titled, “A Conflict of Interests: Canadian Mining in the Congo” organized by STAND McGill, the most debated topic of the day was the role and impact of U.S. and Canadian legislation in curbing violence caused by so-called conflict minerals in the Great Lakes Region of sub-Saharan Africa. These sentiments beg the questions of whether national legislation is actually having an effect on Congolese people or whether it is simply making companies and consumers feel better about their behaviour.

One common misconception about the cycle of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is that it is caused, in part at least, by conflict minerals. However, it is important to understand that the illegal exploitation minerals is an effect of the war. This misunderstanding about the roots of long-standing conflict threatens to lead to flawed responses as to whether action in the United States or Canada can affect the situation on the ground.

So let’s start with the basics.

What has been coined by French historian Gerard Prunier as “Africa’s World War” finds its roots in two successive wars—not to mention its colonial past as a particularly brutal example of heavy-handed Belgian colonialism. In 1996, Rwanda invaded the eastern DRC to oppose extremist Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide who had fled there. Aided by Rwanda, Congolese rebels led by Laurent Kabila took the opportunity to end the reign of Joseph Mobutu—who had been in power since 1965. The strategic alliance between Rwanda and Kabila was short-lived and the fall out led Rwanda and Uganda to back new rebel groups, this time against Kabila. Nine states ultimately got involved in the war. Widespread insecurity, sporadic violence, and the collapse of state authority in the country’s eastern provinces led to the formation of an array of local, foreign, and now internationally-mandated armed groups. Despite numerous peace deals, talks, and ceasefires between rival factions, peace remains elusive in the eastern DRC. Moreover, the conflict has killed more than 5 million people while there are over 19,000 UN peacekeepers in the country based in Kinshasa with little prospect of them leaving any time soon. At last count, there were at least 30 armed groups and armies that after 20 years of conflict do not seem to know what they are fighting over.

So what role do minerals play in this situation? Although the DRC is one of the poorest places on earth, paradoxically, its soil contains some of the largest deposits of natural mineral resources anywhere—including tungsten, tantalum, tin, gold, uranium, and coltan. But as the UN recognizes, the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources is “one of the factors fuelling and exacerbating conflicts.” Armed groups and national armies make an estimated total of USD$185 million from the aforementioned minerals and this lucrative business allows them to maintain their murderous activities. To maintain control of the mines, rebel groups commit widespread human rights abuses, including killings, rape, and torture.


In response to these atrocities, governments, international, and regional bodies as well as corporations have attempted to take steps to prevent the presence of conflict minerals in their supply chains. In 2010, the United States passed Dodd-Frank, which, among other things, requires companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals. MP Paul Dewar in Canada also introduced the pro-active Bill 486-4, the Conflict Minerals Act, which would incorporate the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development into national law and require Canadian companies to trace the source of minerals and exercise due diligence and transparency during the course of their operations.

This demand-side transparency through national and regional policies is certainly to be encouraged. It is unacceptable for us to use devices that cause oppression and death. However, when drafting this type of legislation, it crucial two consider two things about the DRC.

First, as noted, conflict minerals are an effect of the war and collapse of the state rather than acause. While de-linking the connection between armed groups and mining is crucial to creating a hurting stalemate in the hope that this brings all sides of the conflict to the table, it is by no means guaranteed. Indeed, armed groups are just as likely to find other non-mineral resources to sustain their murderous activities, be it through illegal taxation or the lucrative timber trade in the region. Beyond foreign-designed policies to legislate the local mining industry, the DRC truly requires internal solutions and mechanisms. This requires that the international community engage an increasing amount of capital and technical assistance to rebuild the dysfunctional Congolese state and put pressure on Kigali to respect the sovereignty of the eastern provinces of the DRC.

The second—and often hidden—consideration with regard to the recent legislation is its effect upon the local population that are the very constituents that laws like Dodd-Frank and the Conflict Minerals Act are attempting to help. Indeed, when the most recent conflagration began, many Congolese turned to artisanal mining as a means of survival as underemployment reaches as high as 81 percent. It is therefore crucial to make sure that legislation to limit the use of minerals from the region does not backfire and hurt the very stakeholders that they are trying to help. Where the Canadian bill seems to get it right is where Paul Dewar emphasises the needto collaborate with governments, Congolese officials, companies, and most importantly perhaps, Congolese civil society groups. A viable solution can only come from a collaboration of several foreign and local actors.

Put simply, the situation in the DRC and other states where minerals are used to fund conflict are incredibly complicated and the solutions will need to be just as sophisticated. As we broach this topic in the media and elsewhere, it is important to realize that Canadian and U.S. legislation on the matter does not represent a panacea and does not replace the need for fairly aggressive politicking and technical assistance programs in the region.