Rwandan Genocide Twentieth Anniversary: Prelude to Passover

Rwanda: Prelude to Passover

by

Howard Adelman

In one week we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide. The genocide started before 6 April (The commemoration date is 7 April)) with a number of test runs in which 300 were killed at a time. But the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over the next ten weeks started in earnest on 7 April 1994 after almost a dozen Belgian peacekeepers and the Prime Minister were murdered. I and Astri Surke undertook the first study of the role of bystanders, that is, the international community in allowing the genocide to take place. In the process, we visited a mass grave in Butare and did sample counts of the approximately 18,000 corpses laid out in the rooms of the technical school. I cannt write about it without recalling the experience, without smelling the odour of death and seeing the way those individuals had been killed. .
Two weeks today we begin the celebration of Passover, the escape to freedom of the Israelites from their oppression under the Egyptians. It is a joyful feat of freedom, Te alternative was their slaughter which had already begun with the slaying of male children.  Passover is the re-enactment of that escape.

On Friday, Sue Montgomery published an article in the Montreal Gazette on Rwanda: Twenty Years later: The Burden of Survival. Like the Holocaust, the survivors live long after often suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Reminders of what befell Rwanda are everywhere across its green, hilly landscape, especially at this time of year, when everything stops April 7 for a national week of mourning. Across the country, churches and schools where hundreds of thousands sought refuge but instead were slaughtered en masse have been converted into stirring memorials, with skulls, bones and clothing displayed often as they were found.

The following are further extracts from that article:that begins wit the tale of two orphans who survived, Alain Ntwali and Luck Ndunguye.

Just 7 and 5 when their worlds violently collapsed, they grew up in patchwork families of orphans, fearful, confused and unbearably sad, raising children younger than themselves and taking on roles far beyond their years. Now in their 20s, they struggle to keep the pain embedded in their psyches two decades ago from crippling them completely, while an incessant soundtrack of what-ifs and if-onlys clogs their thoughts.

Asked if they feel depressed, the young friends nod and respond in unison: “All the time.”

“So you cry, you smoke, you drink,” shrugs Ntwali.

Survivors of the genocide, many of whom are unable to work because of crippling disabilities or chronic illnesses, feel abandoned by their government and the world. As the country positions itself as an information-technology hub — installing more than 1,600 kilometres of fibre-optic cables and a 4G network that covers 95 per cent of the country — many of its wounded citizens can barely function..still haunted by the past, unable to sleep, plagued by stress-induced headaches and epilepsy, and turning to alcohol and drugs to stop the unrelenting mental loop of sickening images.

They are still haunted by the past, unable to sleep, plagued by stress-induced headaches and epilepsy, and turning to alcohol and drugs to stop the unrelenting mental loop of sickening images.

More than one-quarter of Rwanda’s population suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2009 study conducted by Rwandan psychiatrists, and there are few resources to help them…Even Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire, who has received the best medical care possible, is still tormented by his time as general of the United Nations peacekeeping mission that failed to prevent or stop the genocide because of international apathy. So are 10 other Canadian soldiers who served with him in Rwanda. An 11th, Major Luc Racine, who was with the Royal 22nd Regiment in Valcartier, killed himself in Mali in September 2008 after suffering for years from PTSD.

Chaste Uwihoreye, who was a teenager during the genocide, is now a psychologist running an organization that works with youth — the innocent bystanders left to put their country back together again. In the years immediately following the massacre, there was no time to be traumatized, he said, but once the essentials were dealt with, memories started to surface and between 2000 and 2006, the country began to find itself in the depths of an emotional crisis..Jonathan Nettal, a Côte St-Luc native whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, is a psychotherapist working for a Canadian NGO called Hopethiopia/Rwanda, counselling 19- to 23-year-olds on how to turn to each other for support with their collective trauma. What he sees in that age group is a general feeling of loneliness that comes from growing up without parents…Psychiatrist Yvonne Kayiteshonga, who heads the mental health division of the ministry, doesn’t sugar-coat the situation when she says that a country that experiences genocide is a country where the majority of its population is sick.

 

 

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