Remembering Rwanda: 25 Years After the Genocide

| May 7, 2019

Last month marked 25 years since the Rwandan Genocide, during which 250,000 to 500,000 Tutsi women were raped and close to one million Rwandans were killed over the course of 100 days. Different governmental and international organizations hosted events to commemorate the atrocity, in addition to the somber yet beautiful ceremonies held in Rwanda. The president of Rwanda spoke of the importance of never forgetting, but also, of shining forward and coming together as one nation.  

Last year, I wrote a research paper on the effects of the systematic implementation of sexual violence in the Rwandan Genocide, a technique utilized by local Hutu authorities and officers to ensure the destruction of the Tutsi minority. The top-down enforcement of such violence – such severe violation of personal dignity – would facilitate the complete humiliation of the Tutsis as it guaranteed long-lasting (and inheritable) trauma. In my paper, I argue that the enduring effects of genocidal rape can be broken down into effects on the individual survivors and the survivors’ communities at large. An analysis of the sexual methodology of the genocide demonstrates that the long-lasting effects on the individual are both physical and mental (neuroscientific, psychological, and emotional), and the effects on the survivors’ communities are economic, cultural, and familial. I ultimately claim that the severe trauma inflicted on (Tutsi) women led to the unraveling of the Tutsi community itself, leaving it not only completely disempowered, but the victim of something almost worse than murder.

Ever since I worked on that paper, I’ve been wanting to do some more research about present-day Rwanda, and how these damaging effects have developed in reality. Doing some reading about the 25th commemoration of the genocide, I learned about something I was not expecting: the six “reconciliation villages” in Rwanda where “convicted perpetrators who have been released from prison after publicly apologizing for their crimes live side by side with genocide survivors who have professed forgiveness.” After having researched how heinous and inhumane the violence of the Rwandan Genocide was – and how damaging it would be in the long-run – I am in disbelief at how this could be possible. That the Hutu who raped, sodomized, mutilated, and murdered countless Tutsis could be the next-door neighbors, or farming partners, of their victims is hard to understand. In fact, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

There are certain injustices that are just so difficult to bear that no tangible act – no legislation, no punishment or vengeance on the perpetrator, no amount of compensation – could undo the damage done. So the only way I can understand this forgiveness is by acknowledging that none of these other measures could fully allow the survivors of the genocide to heal and look past the trauma they had experienced. This miracle of forgiveness reveals a truth that is hard to accept: maybe my sense of justice isn’t the end-all-be-all. Because, while I certainly think that those responsible for the genocide should be held accountable and measures should be taken to assist the survivors in their healing, maybe the only thing that is truly liberating and capable of freeing us from misery is a different type of justice. One that doesn’t make sense, one that seems impossible, but one that brings the type of peace that can allow you to find meaning even in the unbearable. One that comes through forgiveness.