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Memorial Honors Victims of 1994 Rwandan Genocide


Rwanda's rolling green countryside and laid-back city life paint a picture of peace and tranquility. But beneath the calm surface, the people of this African Great Lakes country are still struggling to come to terms with the traumas of the genocide that took place here 13 years ago. Cathy Majtenyi visited Rwanda recently and files this report on the importance of remembering the tragedy. (Warning: some of the images in the video are graphic).

Francis Rusanganwa is a curator at the Murambi Genocide Memorial site, about two hours drive from the capital Kigali.

On April 21, 1994 at this former technical college, Hutu militia and Hutu government soldiers shot or hacked to death about 50,000 Tutsis.

Rusanganwa's family members are among the bodies that are preserved in lime.

"Every day I open the doors. I show to the visitors what happened, I explain the history. I remember my family, who has been killed here. I am very, very -- everyday -- very shocked. I'm sad. I'm frustrated," says Rusanganwa.

The roots of the 1994 genocide date back to the late 1880s during colonialism.

Hutu and Tutsi were classifications largely based on the number of cows a person owned. But Belgian colonialists made the distinctions racial and in 1932 they introduced the identity card. At different times, the administration of the day favored either the Tutsis or the Hutus, but an anti-Tutsi sentiment took root by the time of independence in 1962.

In the months leading up to the genocide, the Hutu government carried out massive print and radio propaganda campaigns against the minority Tutsis, urging Hutus to rise up and kill the Tutsis.

The genocide began on April 6th, 1994, following the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana.

A Hutu militia called Interahamwe and civilians killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus within the span of 100 days.

Thirteen years later, genocide memorial sites dot the countryside, such as where Rusanganwa and others make it their personal mission to ensure that the world does not forget the events of 1994 and that genocide perpetrators hiding abroad be brought to justice.

"After the genocide, some countries began to deny what happened -- no genocide, no genocide," says Rusanganwa. "If you come here, you see what happened. You take photos, and you hear (the) history and you go back in your country. If we had buried all bodies here, you could not be sure (if there was genocide)."

He says that discussing the genocide with visitors ultimately helps him to release the pain in his heart.

Honore Gatera is a genocide survivor and is head of the guides department at the Kigali Memorial Centre. For him, remembering the genocide is key to the future of survivors and Rwanda as a whole.

"The good thing that we are doing in keeping the memory of the genocide is helping those who were affected by the genocide. So this is why groups of Rwandans in their reactions, they feel like they have to contribute, they have to do something to help those who are affected, like the survivors, to build the nation together," says Gatera.

Gatera says Rwanda acts as a warning to other countries of what could ultimately happen if divisions among groups of people are allowed or encouraged to deepen.

Rwanda has taken many steps to try to prevent such violence from ever being repeated.

Among other measures, the government has formed a truth and reconciliation process, a grassroots court system, called gacaca, to deal with genocide cases, and outlawed the Hutu and Tutsi categories on identification cards.

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