Tag Archives: Genocide

Rwanda Day 5b


[Sorry for the delay. Recovery and vacation time to Maine took precedence to posting more Rwanda entries.]

In my last entry I spoke of our exposure to prisoners at a local prison–all innocent in their own eyes, or at least deserving of being forgiven and released. All had been convicted by either a federal court or a Gacaca (local) court of genocidal activities.

In the afternoon we invited victims and perpetrators to our retreat house to interview them about their experiences. Jared, a diocese employee, our driver, and wise man brought two victims and one perpetrator to us (in the same car!). We sat under a tree and drank Fantas together, first with the victims and later with the perpetrator. Here’s what we learned:

Victims. We spoke with a woman and two men. The following quotes are through a translator.

The woman told us she was hidden by a Hutu (this is one of the few times we heard this!). She lost her husband and some children in the genocide.

I saw it with my own eyes. People killed people who knew each other. Some of the criminals now live in the community. We share life. Their homes are close. Some of the criminal’s children are seen by me. Their father killed my family. I have forgiven him because he confessed. It is a formula…confess, be forgiven, and live together. But do I forget? No. I see him (the killer) hang back and hesitate to ask for help. Rwanda is a country of sharing but he hesitates to ask. I have to be the one who makes more efforts to connect than he does.

Older man.

I thank God I am alive. It is a miracle. I didn’t expect to survive. There was no place to hide because no friend was left. So, I hid in churches, bushes, and rushes. It was terrible to see. I lost 170 people in my extended family. Remembering is the problem not economical. I knew those doing the killing. I survived by some miracle by moving around and going to another town where they didn’t know if I was a Hutu or a Tutsi….Afterwards, we had to live with those who committed the crimes and now we are trying to cover. Among those who killed, some confessed. They blame the government’s teaching and mobilization. But now they thank God we have a government that wants unity. So, we have to forgive to live together.

Younger man.

I was 11 when the genocide started. Some teachers came to our class and told us, “Tutsi, stand up.” They counted the number of each. I was in the thicket when the killers came. Some Hutus covered me up. When it was over my father was dead. My brother was killed and my sister too in Kigali. Our family was nine. Now we are three. In 2005 I finished school. I have been a judge in the Gacaca courts. It is good that I survived but now I am head of my family and I have to support my mother and my two married sisters (their husbands have to support their own families of origin). But I have no job. I hope to go to university some day.

What is it like to live in the same village with those known to have killed family members?

We are taught to forgive by government but then we see the criminals with their family. So it hurts. His family can achieve what we cannot because they have their whole family. I can’t provide for my family because I am a widow. I could if my husband was still here.

They can hurt you with their words even now. During the three months of memorial they can say things that shows they are proud of what they did.

Does it help to talk about it?

Yes and no. You have to be selective who you talk to. Some one might be happy or proud that I am hurting. I don’t tell it in public because it might be used by someone without good intentions.

How are you feeling about your country?

Today we should build Rwanda together by using Gacac courts to build trust. We try not to be aggressive. Unfortunately, some confess only to get absolution.

Finally, we interviewed a man who is a confessed killer. He is admitted to kill our female victim’s husband. (Remember they came in the same car from the same village. We thought was hard by the woman didn’t think anything of it! EVEN MORE AMAZING, we learned that this man also killed Jared, our translator’s father. Jared didn’t bat an eye when this was revealed to us!).

Since 1967 we learned who is Hutu and Tutsi in school. In 1990 the RPF (rebel Tutsis from Uganda who later became the government) it became worse. People said Tutsis were snakes and taught us this division. “Cut bushes” meant to cut Tutsis with a machete. For me, the genocide started 6 April 1994. When the president was killed I thought Tutsis killed him. They asked us to take revenge and killed the Tutsis. We started the same day. I killed different people. I remember each and every one. It lasted one week. Only a few survived. The RPF stopped us. I was exiled in Tanzania. We came back in 1996. I was arrested and imprisoned. In prison, they mobilized us to ask for forgiveness. I learned that I could be forgiven by God if I confessed. In prison, there were two parties–those who confessed and those who wouldn’t because they wanted to finish the job. Those who sincerely confessed had charges dropped. I was given only 9 years. But in prison, some (we learned later that some meant his own father) some tried to stop me and said the government was tricking us. Now, I’ve been here for 6 years with no problems.

What did you hear in prison?

Some confessed in order to get free. Some wanted to kill me for telling the truth. But I don’t care, I just want to tell the whole truth.

What helped you tell the truth?

The church taught me that you must confess the whole truth to the victim so you can be forgiven by God. Also, once you do this, you have to tell it many times to get it off your heart and to realize what you have done. Yet, it is difficult to come back and live with people whose relatives you killed.

What is the hardest thing for you to deal with?

I’m responsible for their pain. I have flashbacks. I hear them (the victims) crying in my memory.   

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Filed under christian psychology, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, deception, Repentance, Rwanda

Rwanda Day Five


Today we visited Nsinda Prison (population 8000) to interview those convicted of genocide. As we pulled up to the prison we met a large group of prisoners returning to the prison from the fields. They had only 1 guard with a machine gun and another with a stick. Many prisoners carried produce. Again, it felt like we were transported back a century. It was a dusty ancient looking place with shirtless male prisoners carrying huge logs on their shoulders (for firewood for their cooking fires). We were ushered to a bare cinder block room with a log and metal roof. 4 stools were brought for us. One of us noticed several wasp hives attached to the roof. In walked 19 prisoners all accused and convicted of mass murder. Quite a few were women and two had babies. One baby nursed throughout the session. The one guard stood outside the room with the door open to the out of doors. We asked them about their experiences. These individuals denied much wrongdoing, felt their former government led them astray, confessed, asked for forgiveness but felt they were denied it. They espoused genocidal ideology in that Tutsis were accused of killing the president and succeeding in forcing out the Hutus in the country.

Oh, as we entered the prison, we were greeted with “Nothing but the Blood” in native tongue over a loudspeaker. Apparently, there was a church service going on. What a contrast between the song (which recognizes guilt and the need for cleansing and the perceived innocence of the genocidaires (“I only mutilated dead bodies.”)

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Rwanda Day Four


Spent the day traveling around Kigali. First stop was Ndera hospital, the only psychiatric hospital in the country. It sits atop a dusty hill just outside the city. Upon entering the gate and getting out of the cars, we were welcomed by patients asking for water and money. The hospital has a 19th century or impoverished cold war era feel about it. Sterile cement block buildings set in a square. Sparse is an overstatement. We learned many staff and patients were murdered during the genocide. This hospital has over 200 patients (but just 12 beds for children). Psychiatric nurses provide the bulk of the care. Their “intake” room had one chair, one table and very little light. Patients lie on the grass outside in various states of unhealth. They have many with PTSD and schizophrenia diagnoses. Their only medication is Haldol. No “atypicals” or newer medications. A woman started screaming just outside our door. Translated: “Why does everyone hate me?”

From this hospital we traveled to the National Memorial Center to tour the genocide museum and grounds where some 300,000 have been interred. I couldn’t handle the room filled with poster size pictures of young children in happier days. The small print told of their favorite foods and activities…and how they were hacked to death.

Another lunch with a Christian counselor, Ms. Paulette, who told of her counseling work and training of lay counselors. After lunch, we met with the executive secretary of the Commission to educate about and prevent genocide. This handsomely dressed man shows the signs of his own trauma. he desires our help to guide the country to remember in healthier ways. Right now they play videos of the actual genocide and so during their 100 day memorial (April to July) they see so much trauma responses. He wished us to start right away.

Here’s a thought in my head: Does Rwanda need us or do we need Rwanda. I am amazed at how community minded this country is. They have no choice. People sacrifice for the good of all. They make do with a little. They are action oriented and start doing things rather than waiting to get it right. Risk calculation is not part of their thinking. What amazing things we could do in this country if we would learn from these people on how to put neighbor ahead of self.

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Final thoughts on roots of evil


Well not really. Just that I posted on Tuesday that I would add a few more thoughts on this topic. On Sunday, Terry Traylor preached on the last verse of Judges and the first part of Matthew 21. You can hear it here. In his sermon he gave a nice summary of the book of Judges and the cycle we find in it:

1. The people stop dealing with sin, begin to flirt with it
2. God gives them over to their desires. He lets them have what they demand.
3. The people slowly recognize the problem, take a long time to do something about it, but finally call to the Lord for help.
4. God raises up a protector/deliverer.
5. God provides a period or rest and safety

Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself. Except for one small problem: the cycle is broken when the people fail to cry out to God for help but keep going on their way. We could call it the “butterfly effect.” When the people fail to get rid of the idols but accept forms of syncretism, then it allows temple workers (Levites) to make it okay to have a concubine in the first place. He doesn’t protect her when some rapists come his way. He shows her no concern after her rape. She dies and he doesn’t give her the decency of a burial but sends her body parts to the 12 tribes and tells only the part that makes others look bad. And ultimately this butterfly effect ends with thousands dead in a civil war and innocent women stolen and subjected to forced marriages. All because everyone did right in their own eyes.

It would seem that this is part of the problem in Rwanda. You have a rather religious/Christian population that flirts with hatred and jealousy of the other, turns a blind eye to neighbors doing violence to others and ends up with civil strife and genocide.

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Some more thoughts on the roots of evil


Continuing my reading about the tragedies in Rwanda, I’m now following the writer Jean Hatzfeld–thanks to my colleague Carol King. He has written a few books on the genocide in an attempt to give voice to both surviving victim and killer. “Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak” is a chilling mix of interview of 10 “killers” from the district south of the capital and background information

[FYI, for those following this blog for some time, my trip to Rwanda has been delayed until at least July. Pray that it happens then!].

For most of the world, Rwanda was a quiet, tiny country that exploded into Tutsi genocide in 1994 after their Hutu president was assassinated. One day it is calm, the next an entire population of Hutus begin systematically destroying their Tutsi neighbors. Even soccer teammates killed each other, with no remorse.  

But dig a little and you find out that this is not so. Despite living and working together, Hutus (the majority) felt the minority Tutsis (treated as the upperclass by Europeans in the formation of Rwanda) had too much power. Much radio and media did comic portrayals about the killing of cockroaches (the Tutsis). Apparently, they were so funny that even the Tutsis listened and laughed.

It looks like this is what happened:

1. Conflict between groups, fanned by leadership (read pp 52-58 for how it happened).
2. Use of both comic discussions of killings plus occasional actual killings going unpunished
3. Lots of free beer, food (many ate meat every day when normally they only ate it at weddings), and promises of rewards
4. Threats of violence to Hutus if they do not follow outsiders orders. These outsiders “apprenticed” farmers into killers.
5. A large group involved (100% involvement) with lots of camraderie so as to defuse guilty feelings.
6. A simple task ordered: kill.
7. The abandonment by the white individuals in the country and so gave the sense that the world didn’t care and wouldn’t hold them accountable.

This is quite a chilling book (because thus far there is no apology or blameshifting in the book by those being interviewed). Here’s one especially difficult passage:

For my part, I offer you an explanation: it is as if I had let another individual take on my own living appearance, and the habits of my heart, without a single pang in my soul. This killer was indeed me, as to the offense he committed and the blood he shed, but he is a stranger to me in his ferocity. I admit and recognize my obedience at that time, my victims, my fault, but I fail to recognize the wickedness of the one who raced through the marshes on my legs, carrying my machete. That wickedness seems to belong to another self with a heavy heart. The most serious changes in my body were my invisible parts, such as the soul or the feelings that go with it. Therefore I alone do not recognize mysefl in that man. (p. 48)

Tomorrow I will post one more on this topic: the pattern of running away from and then back to the Lord as seen in Judges. Or, how we stop seeing our sin and forget to cry out to God.

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Filed under conflicts, Cultural Anthropology, Rwanda, self-deception

Doing the unthinkable: Obeying Commands to do Evil


Have you ever wondered how a person could participate in a genocide? How was it that the average German citizen either explicitly or implicitly participated in the extermination of millions of Jews? Or consider the more recent genocides in Sudan, Rwanda, and the Congo. If you are honest, you’ve asked this question and have thought, “there’s just no way I would do something like that.”

Or would you? The January issue of the 2009 American Psychologist is devoted to the topic of obedience and the controversial studies by Stanley Milgram. Recall your Psych 101 class and the obedience studies in the 60s where he found that participants would be willing to shock “learners” when they made mistakes despite the learner’s protests. Shocks were administered to the point of the learner becoming non-responsive. Well, no, there wasn’t any real shocks in the study, but participants didn’t know that and agreed to obey the instructor and push buttons for increasing shock levels when the confederate learner made a mistake.

But, we’re more advanced nowadays, right? One of the authors, Jerry Burger (Santa Clara U.) modified Milgram’s study (by eliminating some of the ethical controversies in the study) and found that still obeyed the instructor to apply shocks even when the “learner” cried out and asked for it to stop–EVEN when they saw defiant participants (really, confederates) refuse to obey the instructor.

So, why do we not speak up? Why do we go along with bad ideas? What is it that happens when we know we should not go along with something but do anyway? What happens then to our conscience?

Is the problem the power of the situational factors, as some assume, that make us feel we should obey? Or is it our dislike of being in conflict that causes us to be willing to pass on conflict to another in order to stay free from it?

Consider how you have listened to off-color jokes and said nothing. Consider how you have watched someone do something inappropriate or say something inappropriate to another but decided to say nothing. While we can give ourselves a break due to the surprise and shock factor and time to consider what the best option should be, we have to admit we have times of non-action.      

I saw a recent TV show filmed at a deli where someone behind the counter made fun of individuals trying to order but lacking in English skills. It was all staged so as to see what would those waiting behind do. Would they agree with the ethnic comments? Would they stand up and demand the server stop the offensive language? Would they leave? Many did speak up, but some did not and some even participated in telling those immigrants to go back where they came from.

Fact is, we don’t like suffering and we prefer comfort. But, living in a sinful world means speaking up and taking one on the chin from time to time. Some of us have “hero” fantasies where we imagine us taking the high road, but if we are honest, we are just as likely to freeze up and go along with things we ought not.

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Rwanda’s Gacaca (truth and justice) courts


Am reading Romeo Dallaire’s memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil, of his time as UN commander in Rwanda before and during the 1994 genocide. It is amazing that this man isn’t in a psychiatric ward given his position as “observer” of the genocide and no power to do much of anything, even protect his own troops.

But last night I watched the documentary, In the Tall Grass, the story of a woman seeking justice in the village court (aka gacaca courts). The village turns out to hear her complaint that her neighbor killed her husband and children for being Tutsis. The villagers are asked what they saw and only one or two admit to seeing anything though it is assumed most know. The accused man admits to being present and “participating” in the killings but denies he struck the fatal blows. (They remain neighbors). His story is inconsistent. She claims she will forgive him if he confesses fully. He sticks to his story as being a witness to the events. But one woman stands up and tells the crowd how the children were murdered and where they are buried (the mother did not know this). So, the village goes and digs many holes in the area in order to find the children’s bodies–now 10 years later. They find them and several undertake, on film, to wash the bones and prepare them for proper burial. The accused participates in the washing and this woman watches it all.

I cannot fathom the experiences of 1994, of living next door to those who murdered your family, nor that of watching someone tenderly wash your child’s skull, rib-bones, etc.

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