Thursday, 10 April, 2014

On Tuesday evening we joined a dynamic discussion event at The Wiener Library, facilitated by Women for Rwanda, about understanding of the Genocide in Rwanda.  

We explored how our understanding of the Genocide had been formed, from watching reports on TV at the time of the Genocide, through films and books such as Hotel Rwanda, to the media’s portrayal of the Genocide today – 20 years later.

The general consensus was that media was central to communicating understanding of the Genocide in Rwanda, and genocide in general, but that the focus is often on international and political responses, or lack of, rather than the experiences of individuals.

We discussed the issue of the ‘official memory’ of genocide, and what is included and omitted from ‘official memory’.  In response to the Genocide in Rwanda, the narrative of ‘100 days of genocide’, running from 7 April to 17 July, has been formed as part of official memory, however we know the act of killing took place before 7 April and a build up in ethnic tensions and racially-instigated murder had been rife within the country for decades (see Jean’s testimony). 

This ‘100 days of genocide’ narrative is criticised as a means of simplifying and neatly packaging these events, but how else do we begin to communicate such a complicated and traumatic process?

We then went onto think about what aspects of representation are missing from the portrayal of the genocide. 70% of survivors of the Genocide were women; however the focus doesn’t always seem to correlate. We know that when genocide takes place the experience of men and women is often different.  In many cases the experience of women includes complex stories that don’t easily fit into the narrative of 100 days.  In Rwanda, the experiences of women often include rape, and sexual violence, which societies often find difficult and uncomfortable to share and digest.  A UN Human Rights Commission report in 1996 said of Rwanda, ‘rape was the rule and its absence the exception’(1).  Survivors who have experienced rape are often silenced by the community, perceived as ‘impure’ or rejected by their families.  It was also suggested that rape victims represent a physical embodiment of the Genocide that doesn’t fit neatly into a rhetoric that says ‘this happened in the past and now we are together, unified and moving forward’.  There is also often a lack of a will to prosecute sexual crimes; possibly because of the reasons mentioned above there is a lack of evidence.  The first instance of a conviction of rape as a crime against humanity was made by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia ICTY as late as 2001(2).

The event ended with a challenge to think about our own responsibilities to champion these stories in the public realm - what can we do to make sure these untold stories are included in discussion about the Genocide in Rwanda?

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the experiences of survivors, on HMD and throughout the whole year.  During the 20th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda, read and share the life story of a Rwandan woman who has experienced genocide.

Daphrose saw her family killed before her eyes.  She experienced rape and contracted HIV.

Henriette was born in 1972 in the Butare province of Rwanda. Her parents were farmers and owned land. She was the firstborn of the family and had two brothers and three sisters. She was 24 when the Genocide in Rwanda took place. 

Clare lost her family in the genocide of 1994. She was repeatedly raped and left mutilated after being left for dead in a killing pit. Here she describes her experiences.  

This event was organised as a part of a series of events taking place at The Wiener Library during the 20th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda.  Visit their website to find out more about events taking place.

(1) Report on Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict: United Nations
(2) United Nations website: Sexual Violence