WASHINGTON— Rwandans all over the world this week are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide in their country that took the lives of 800,000 people. One such observance was held by the Rwandan diaspora community in Washington.
Genocide survivors joined with U.S. and Rwandan officials, academics, human rights activists and performers to reflect on the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.
Young performers were a painful reminder for genocide survivor Jacqueline Murekatete, who still has flashbacks. She was only nine years old in 1994.
“I still see women and children in my mind, vividly remember them being dragged to their death. I still remember the voices of children whom I had to listen to; whose arms and legs have been cut off; they’d be crying for their mothers and fathers who have already been killed," said Murekatete.
Murekatete lost her parents, her six siblings and part of her extended family. She said it's important to become actively involved in her country's healing, since there still are many challenges.
“A lot of women were raped and intentionally infected with HIV/AIDS. There are children who were born of those rapes and are just now coming to terms with their identity because they are learning the circumstances of their birth,” said Murekatete.
Edouard Kayihura, another genocide survivor, said there is one thing that haunts him.
“I lost parents, I lost cousins. I lost everyone in my family. It’s now me alone… Why did I survive? Maybe to tell this story,” he said.
Rwandan diplomat Yvette Rugasaguhunga said unity is important in moving on.
"The unity has to really go beyond the borders of Rwanda. That’s why we invited the world to commemorate with us to reflect on the lessons and make sure that never again is actually a reality in the world,” said Rugasaguhunga.
Gaetan Gatete, the head of the Rwandan-American community in the U.S., said he thought the world had learned its lesson.
“But unfortunately, after 20 years, we are still seeing it happen all over the world… in Central Africa and South Sudan,” said Gatete.
Still, his message is one of hope.
“We just don’t want to stay in 1994. There’s more to what happened to Rwanda. There’s a rebuilding of the country and of its people,” said Gatete.
Rwanda's ambassador to the U.S., Mathilde Mukantabana, said that while commemorating the genocide means reliving very difficult moments, it’s still important to find answers to why there was such hatred in her country. She said that she and others owe it to the victims, survivors and future generations to keep searching for answers.