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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More