News / Africa

Rwanda Genocide Memorial Aims to Ensure History is Not Forgotten

Gabe Joselow
As Rwanda marks 20 years since the genocide, a group of visitors from a U.S. Holocaust memorial are touring sites around the country, drawing connections between two of the worst atrocities in the 20th century. 

A wooden shelf stacked floor-to-ceiling with skulls and bones fills the back wall of the Ntarama Church Memorial outside Kigali. It was here, a tour guide explains, that some 5,000 people were killed during the genocide of 1994.

Coffins of some of the dead lie on the pews.  The victims' ragged clothing hangs from strings tied to the ceiling.

Angelique Mukabukizi was among the few survivors of the attack here. A young mother at the time, only survived because the killers who thought they were executing her did not realize after they finished hacking at her body that she was still breathing.

Now, bearing scars on her neck and arms, she tells her harrowing story to a group of visitors from the United States.

As difficult as her experience has been, Angelique feels it is crucial to tell the world what happened in this place.

“If someone comes to visit the memorial and asks me for the testimony, I do it confidently," she explainied. "It is like showing him the history of Rwanda.  We cannot hide it and if he understands it can be a good lesson for him and the rest of the world.”

The group visiting this day knows full well the importance of learning lessons from the past. It is part of a delegation from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Michael Abramovitz, the director of the museum's Center for the Prevention of Genocide, says one of the main functions of memorial sites is to ensure that history is not forgotten.

“We really want to focus part of our efforts at the museum on raising awareness, raising consciousness that genocide did not end after the Holocaust, sadly, and that we have a long way to go to realize our collective vision of 'never again," Abramowitz said.

Touring these memorial sites in Rwanda, is a different experience from visiting a museum, he noted.

“We are only 20 years after the genocide in Rwanda and about 75 years after the Holocaust," Abramowitz said.  "What happened here is rawer and there's no substitute for actually being at the place where these crimes happened.  And that's a very powerful thing.”

There are numerous sites across Rwanda like the Ntarama church, where the real bodies of victims are left on display and the walls still bear bullet holes describing unspeakable violence -- powerful reminders to the living of the not-so-distant past.

Ildephonse Karengera, director of memory and prevention of genocide at Rwanda's anti-genocide commission, says these emotional memorial sites give victims a space to confront the past, and to find some comfort.

“It takes them back to the period in which they were living during the genocide.  But also it is a relief for them because they can cry, they can express themselves, they can give testimonies of what happened,” Karengera said.
 
Ethnic groups of RwandaEthnic groups of Rwanda
x
Ethnic groups of Rwanda
Ethnic groups of Rwanda
Some critics have taken issue with Rwanda's memorials, which strongly emphasize that ethnic Tutsis - the vast majority of the 800,000 people killed - were the ones targeted by extremist Hutus, while paying less attention to moderate Hutus who also died.

Kerengera argues that during the genocide, Hutus were only killed because they refused to kill, were married to a Tutsi, or they physically resembled Tutsis.

“So those Hutus are among those we call victims of genocide against the Tutsi, but we call it 'genocide against the Tutsi' simply because it was the Tutsi who were targeted for extermination, it is not the Hutu,” Karengera said.

Rwanda officially begins commemoration of the genocide on April 7, in Kigali, when President Paul Kagame lights a national flame of mourning with a torch that has been touring across the country since the beginning of the year.
 

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid