6" x 9"
30 b&w photographs
The Men Who Killed Me
Rwandan Survivors of Sexual Violence
Like all books, this one began with an idea. As colleagues at a women’s rights organization in The Hague, Anne-Marie and Sandra worked closely on a variety of issues related to sexual violence in war. Rwanda became a frequent topic of conversation as our friendship grew. The war-ravaged nation, known as the “country of a thousand hills,” had, in effect, become Anne-Marie’s second home; not only had she visited and worked in Rwanda over the years, but she had developed a deep friendship with a young Rwandan woman who had survived traumatic sexual violence during the genocide. We discussed the possibility of creating a venue for this woman and others like her to bring forth their experiences. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls were raped in this tiny country between April and July 1994. Despite numerous accounts of the genocide, including coverage about perpetrators standing trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the voices of rape survivors were notably absent.
In 2007, a few days before Christmas, we visited Solace Ministries, a survivor-run grassroots organization in Kigali that works with widows and orphans of the genocide, offering food, housing, HIV medication, counselling, income-generating projects and spiritual care. We were amazed by both the strength of the women we talked to and the invaluable support they provided for each other as survivors with a common bond. We decided then we would do whatever we could to share their stories. Our friend Samer, who was in Rwanda doing development work, suggested that photographs could bring another dimension to survivors’ accounts of their experiences.
After months of working on the book abroad—Anne-Marie in The Hague and Sandra and Samer in Toronto—we returned to Rwanda in the summer of 2008 to complete the testimonials. We interviewed each survivor on three or four occasions. This approach worked well, since it lessened the trauma for survivors and gave us time to review the testimonials and ask follow-up questions. At each stage of the process, we obtained consent from the survivors, assuring them they could end the interview or withdraw from the book at any time. During the last session with each person, we read the entire testimonial aloud for their approval. All but one survivor we interviewed decided to continue with the project, but three requested that their faces not be recognizable in their photographs.
Throughout the interviews, the awe-inspiring staff of Solace Ministries were on hand to assist with translation and, if necessary, with counselling. With them we attended a gacaca, a traditional court that adjudicates crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide, to support a colleague in testifying against a former neighbour who had murdered her husband.
One afternoon towards the end of the process, we were packing up to leave the interview room when a tall, elegant woman approached us. She pleaded for us to listen to her story. She wanted the world to know the terrible things that had been done to her, she said. With a steady voice and a distant gaze, she told us about the unimaginable violence she had witnessed and experienced, then shared her fears for the future of her children. At that moment, we realized the book was already having a positive impact. These survivors felt that others cared enough to listen.
Once the interviews were complete, Samer travelled across Rwanda photographing survivors in their homes and areas where they experienced the genocide. What he saw shocked him. Most survivors live in rundown shacks with no electricity or running water. Some still live within walking distance of those who committed violence against them. Many lost their entire families in the genocide and so live a great distance from any support. In addition, a horrifying 70 per cent of survivors of sexual violence in Rwanda are now HIV positive. They are often stigmatized because of their condition, and the disease makes it difficult for many people to earn an income.
By sharing their testimonials, these survivors—sixteen women and one man—strive to keep the memory of the genocide alive. They urge the international community to refuse to permit such atrocities to happen again. The violence they suffered battered their bodies and extinguished their dreams. Incredibly, however, these survivors stand defiant. In the face of all odds, they have opted to bring to light the crimes that rape survivors have historically endured in silence. We feel privileged to have witnessed their immense courage, their hope and their will to continue. They have taught us how important it is to remember our common humanity.
The authors’ proceeds from the sales of The Men Who Killed Me will be donated to Mukomeze (Kinyarwanda for “empower her”), a sponsorship program for girls and women raped during the genocide in Rwanda. In this way, we hope to help not only the survivors interviewed here but the thousands of others who were not. The women and young man featured in this book have profoundly changed our lives. We hope that their stories will do the same for you.
from Chapter 2: Testimonials
Marie Louise Niyobuhungiro
Born: 1975 (day and month unknown)
Birthplace : Shyorongi, just outside Kigali
People think I am crazy because I am always crying, and I do not blame them for thinking so. I am always angry, and I do not sleep at night. I hoped secretly that I would die during the genocide, but being among other survivors within a survivors’ organization has brought me comfort and hope. I feel like I have a family now, and I am very grateful for that.
Before the genocide, we were a family of eight children—five girls and three boys. I was the fourth child in the family. My father was a teacher, and my mother was a farmer. We lived in Shyorongi, just outside Kigali. There were many Tutsi families in Shyorongi; we had only one Hutu neighbour. Although he was our neighbour, that Hutu hated us, especially my father, because we were Tutsi. In 1991, my father was poisoned, and I suspect that the Hutu neighbour who hated him so much did it. When my father started to feel sick, he went to a traditional clinic. After his death, my mother asked the people at the clinic what my father had died of, and they told her that he had been poisoned. Today, our former Hutu neighbour and all his family are in prison for crimes they committed during the genocide.
Our mother told us that, in 1959, another Hutu had set fire to my mother’s house and then accused my father of doing it. When my mother told us her history of discrimination for being Tutsi, she would also tell us not to dismiss it as a tale. And years later, what we thought to be just a part of history became our reality.
On April 6, 1994, when President Habyarimana died, the local authorities ordered my family to go back to our house. We had been walking outside. But we did not feel secure in our house, and we went to pass the night on our cassava plantation instead. The next morning, we went to our uncle’s house, which was about a thirty-minute walk from our house. The Interahamwe surrounded my uncle’s house a few hours later. As the killings hadn’t started yet, the militia were just trying to frighten us. When the Interahamwe got tired of this and left, we ran to the Catholic church of Mboza, which was about fifteen minutes’ walking distance from my uncle’s house. Almost three hundred Tutsi had found refuge in the church.
We arrived at the church at about ten in the morning, and a few minutes later the Interahamwe and far soldiers started shooting. They had guns and shot all the men, including my uncle. I fell, and some dead bodies fell on top of me. I was all covered with blood. I heard screams and babies crying, but I was unconscious for most of the time the attack was continuing.
The next day, they came back to kill those who were not yet dead. There was blood all over me, and the killers thought that I was dead, too, so they left me there, lying among those dead bodies. Once I had regained consciousness, all I could see were a lot of bodies lying around the church. The stench of blood was thick in the air. Except for one of my sisters, all my other relatives died during this attack at the church. Out of three hundred people in the church, only five had survived. I felt completely empty. I had no thoughts and felt nothing, nothing at all.
After the Interahamwe left the second time, I left the church. My sister and I went in different directions, because we felt that even if one of us was killed, the other one might have a chance to survive. I fled in the direction of a nearby forest and ran into an Interahamwe on the road, who asked me where I came from. I recognized him as a fellow churchgoer named Ntirenganya. I told him that I had lost my way and was just wandering around. He said that he had finished killing for the day, so others would kill me, not him.
After that close encounter, I spent three days hiding in the bushes. On the fourth day, I went to the house of another uncle, who had not yet had an opportunity to flee, because his wife had just given birth. He and his wife had already been warned by their neighbour, an Interahamwe, to leave their house immediately; they would not have much longer to live otherwise. Together with my uncle’s relatives, I left his house that night. But, at the gate in front of his house, we ran into a group of Interahamwe militia. They took the girls among us and brought us to a nearby roadblock in order to kill us.
Every far soldier or Interahamwe we met on the way made an insulting speech or had a rod to beat us with. One of them said that the girls should be brought to the Twa, who were often ridiculed in Rwanda and considered stupid and worthless. At some point, a far soldier picked me out of the group and took me to a nearby bush. I don’t know what happened to the other girls I was with.
This soldier raped me. After he was done with me, he took me to a house and told the owners of the house to keep me safe, so that he could rape me every time he came. He told them if anything happened to me he would kill them. Every time he came to the house after that, he took me to the forest to rape me. Over five days, I was raped five times a day. The rapist didn’t say anything to me. In the forest, the local people often saw me being raped by this man. The local people, an Interahamwe militiaman and other Hutu would watch the soldier rape me and did not even raise their little finger to stop it. They didn’t care, because I was Tutsi. They were silent. The far soldier who did this to me was so old—about forty—and so savage. It was the very first time I saw what a man was capable of doing.
After those five days, the old man brought me to a lady called Mukandoli, who was an Interahamwe too, and I stayed there. She didn’t care about my situation. She didn’t say anything, except when she sometimes ordered me to go out and farm. I stayed with this lady for one week. Then another far soldier came and told Mukandoli that his colonel wanted me.
When I arrived at the far camp, the colonel had the “manners” to ask me if I wanted to sleep with him. But I knew that whatever answer I gave, the outcome would be the same, and that I would end up in his bed if he had one. I said no and ran into the bushes. His soldiers spent the whole night looking for me, but they didn’t find me.
A little later, I saw a house and entered it. The house appeared to be an Interahamwe’s harem, full of Tutsi women and girls. There were about ten teenage girls in the house, all between about sixteen and twenty years old. The far soldiers who were looking for me found me there and took me back to the colonel. On the way back, they asked me to sleep with them. I told them I could do that the next day. While they were still discussing this, I managed to escape, and I walked all the way to Ruhengeri, which was already under the control of the RPF.
For two weeks, I hid myself during the day and walked during the night. I ate nothing and hid in the bushes. When the RPF went to Kigali, I followed them. I walked just behind them, back to my place of birth. I occupied a house that belonged to owners who had fled the country, because my family house had been destroyed during the genocide. To make a living, I dug the fields for a farmer. Later, a fund for survivors was established, which provided me with a bit of support. I lost four brothers and sisters during the genocide, and one sister died of kidney failure right afterwards. Before the genocide, I had never been intimate with a man, and yet now I have gotten to know many without my consent. Even after the genocide, in 2000, a neighbour came to my house, forced my door open and raped me. There was no use screaming, because no one lived close by. I became pregnant as a result of this rape, and the child died immediately upon birth. The doctors then pressured me to take an HIV test, and I discovered I am HIV positive.
I live in very bad conditions because I didn’t go to school. I have no job and am too weak now to dig the fields. I get food from an organization that helps me to survive. I have had four children since the genocide, all from different fathers. The father of one of my children is a neighbour, and the others have jobs in the neighbourhood. I never see them. I only had sex with each of them once. Luckily, my oldest three children are not HIV positive, but my youngest child has not been tested yet. I wish I could give my children some more support, including buying them school materials and clothes. I am always sick, sometimes because of HIV and other times because of the beatings I endured during the genocide. I was hit on my knees and head with a club and I suffer from severe headaches now. I don’t think I can forgive the far soldiers or the Interahamwe. I don’t want to hear about reconciliation. I accused them in the gacaca courts, including the one who raped me, those who participated in the killings in the church and those I saw at the roadblock, but now they are being released. Gacaca courts do not bring justice. I think the best punishment those men could get is the death penalty, because they killed others, too. We need justice. The génocidaires should not be released. I shared my testimony in order to help establish justice, and I hope it will do that.
© 2009 D&M Publishers Inc.
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