American photographer Lane Montgomery has compiled a
book documenting six major genocides of the past 100 years, during which an
estimated 70 million people were killed. She says she was inspired to create Never
Again, Again, Again following an assignment in Rwanda, where in 1994 Hutu
extremists murdered more than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis. Montgomery’s book
also focuses on the conflict in the Darfur region, where human rights activists
say that since 2003 the government of Sudan has killed at least 300,000 people
belonging to black ethnic groups. The photographer is using her book to press
the relevant authorities to create what she calls an “International Genocide
Force” to stop mass killings.
skeletons sprawled across the slatted wooden bench in a college in a rural
Rwandan district are alabaster white and shiny…as if they’ve been polished up
to form the centerpieces of a macabre art exhibit, when in fact it’s the lime
strewn on their corpses after their murders to prevent them from rotting that’s
bleached them an ivory white.
another of Montgomery’s photographs from Rwanda, a crimson rosary curls across
the warped, tattered and burnt pages of a bible – an image testament to the
truth that tens of thousands of people who hid from the death squads in
churches found no safety. Instead, they became easy targets for marauders waving
machetes and torches of fire.
the Nazi Holocaust, the expression went around, ‘never again.’ People said,
‘Never again will these terrible things happen,’ with all these Jews killed and
the concentration camps and so on. But of course, genocide keeps happening….
That’s why I called my book ‘Never Again, Again, Again,’” Montgomery
For decades the New York City-based photographer has
traveled to war zones around the world, including African conflict zones in
Liberia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Montgomery has taken
pictures for a variety of human rights groups, including Doctors Without
Borders and the International Rescue Committee. She’s also an activist for
peace and serves on the advisory board of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
in the United States.
In ‘Never Again, Again, Again’ Montgomery
intersperses the narrative with interviews with war criminals and commentary
from ambassadors, academics, human rights activists and journalists. But most
disturbing are the first-hand accounts by survivors, such as a letter written
by seven Tutsi pastors in Rwanda’s Mugonero district to the leader of their
church shortly before they were murdered. The document reads, in part, “We wish
to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our
families…. We believe that with the help of God who entrusted you with the
leadership of this flock, which is going to be destroyed, your intervention
will be highly appreciated….”
Benjamin Ferencz, the former chief prosecutor of Nazi
extermination squads at the Nuremburg war trials in 1947, describes
Montgomery’s work as a “grim and important reminder that we owe it to our own
humanity, and to the memory of those who perished, never to stop trying to make
this a more humane and peaceful world under the rule of law.”
have prepared me for Rwanda….”
states emphatically, “Rwanda was the reason I started the book.”
2004, a humanitarian organization asked her to visit the country to take
photographs to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the genocide there.
Montgomery says she expected to find a “clean country” with few reminders of
the horror that had unfolded a decade before, with “everything hidden;
forgotten.” Her first port of call was a Catholic church in the “middle of the
woods” on the outskirts of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
did not expect to find what I found…. The bodies were still there. The
skeletons were there with hair on their heads, the purses, high heel shoes,
tattered clothing. This was in the raw, what I saw,” Montgomery recalls.
another church, this time in the Ntarama district, Montgomery found a “burnt
bible, and the rosaries, still left over from the massacre…. I found it
absolutely amazing that these things were still there, after so many years.”
the height of the mass murder, Hutu militia hacked and burned thousands of
Tutsis to death at the place of worship at Ntarama.
happened was they went to their pastor and asked for protection and he turned
them in, he told the Hutus that they were hiding there – for money,” says
Montgomery. “And in my pictures you see all the skulls, and the crosses, and
the aftermath of the slaughter. And you can imagine the terror that must have
gone through the worshipper’s minds before they were massacred, trapped in the
says she found it very difficult to do her job in Rwanda.
was crying all the time and I didn’t think I could take the photographs. But I
forced myself to.”
Montgomery acknowledges, she became even more emotional – not with taking her
own pictures, but by studying those others had taken of the aftermath of the
saw all these pictures of the little children, the orphans of the massacre….
The mothers had been raped by the Hutus and had been given AIDS, and they
didn’t want to keep the children,” she whispers.
her return to New York City, Montgomery says she was “plagued” by what she’d
witnessed in Rwanda.
realized how many photographs I had of situations like Kosovo, and Rwanda, and
so I decided to write a book…to highlight the fact that these mass killings are
still taking place, even with world attention focused on them.”
“The ICC must prosecute al-Bashir”
A chapter in Never Again, Again, Again is dedicated
to the conflict in Darfur and contains some of the most graphic images in the
book. In one such photograph, a rebel soldier swathed in white robes, his arms
bent in prayer, stands over a twisted body decomposing in the tawny desert
sands, its dark skin long ago ripped apart by wind and sun and assorted
Montgomery suggests that the ongoing violence in Darfur
offers incontrovertible evidence that most world leaders “care very little”
about the ethnic cleansing happening there.
have no faith in the authorities, because what they say and do are very, very
different,” she tells VOA. “In 1992, (then US President) Bill Clinton said, ‘if
the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of
remaining silent and paralyzed in the face of genocide.’ (But) this is
precisely what his administration did in Rwanda, and what the world did (there)
in 1994, when 800,000 Tutsis were killed in eight weeks. And we’re still doing
it” in Darfur.
One of her book’s key points is that genocide will
continue as long as the perpetrators escape justice. Montgomery is in “total
favor” of the International Criminal Court pursuing war crimes charges against
Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, who has allegedly sanctioned the attacks on
black ethnic Darfuris.
example must be made of al-Bashir,” she snaps, despite the Sudanese leader’s
pledge to disarm the janjaweed and other violent groups there.
al-Bashir gets off scot-free, and the world keeps on turning its eyes away from
leaders like him just because they are in positions of authority, then genocide
will keep on happening,” she reasons.
describes what’s happening in western Sudan, where janjaweed militia
allegedly allied to the Sudanese government and state troops have attacked
villages and refugee camps, as “impunity beyond belief. These are brutal men
who are destructive, and they’ve been getting away with it for years. The UN
and human rights officials have made Darfur the longest ongoing episode of
genocide in the past century, because (they) don’t do anything about it.”
She’s convinced that the “atrocities in Darfur could have
been shortened to months rather than years” had the perpetrators been
prosecuted shortly after the attacks began almost six years ago.
“Punishment of perpetrators opens the doors for diplomacy
and dignity. Silence and looking the other way emboldens the janjaweed.
The lack of punishment of perpetrators fosters more evil. Our silence is their
machete...their rifles, their poisoning of wells with the bodies of dead
children,” the photographer writes in her book.
“International Genocide Force”
Montgomery says the UN Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
resolution is “sensible” and “well-intentioned”… but also “totally ineffectual”
in preventing and stopping mass murder. Instead, she advocates the creation of
an “independent International Genocide Force” that has the “necessary amount of
arms, weapons and personnel to achieve its mission; it must be staffed with
leading negotiators and mediators to bring about an immediate end to bloodshed
and foster peace….”
maintains, though, that she realizes the “enormity” of the task facing the UN
and its secretary general, Ban ki Moon.
“He (Ban) faces a different world. The 1990s were blissful
compared to today because genocide today is often used as a tool by the people
that are in charge to stay in power – like al-Bashir.”
She points out that the United Nations says states are
responsible for protecting their own citizens from mass murder, mass rape and
starvation, “but when they are unwilling or unable to do so, the responsibility
must be borne by a larger outside force. That’s what I agree with, that the
larger force has to be an international force and it has to be (well) armed…. and
adds, “If nothing else, the years between 1915 and 2008 have borne out to us
that human rights have to be legalized in some form, where we get an
international force to punish genocide, where they can make arrests…. They can
use helicopters, they can use rifles; they can put people in prison cells. But
we do none of that…. We just talk.”
Montgomery does, however, laud the recent lengthy prison sentences given by
the International Criminal Court to some of the masterminds of the Rwandan
genocide, including Theoneste Bagosora and two senior military officers who the
tribunal found had organized, trained and armed the militia members responsible
for most of the killing.
she also commends the international activists she says are “doing their best”
to enlighten the world about what’s happening in Darfur and to pressure the
Sudanese authorities to halt the violence, she’s convinced that the advocacy
movements have ultimately been ineffective in stopping the killings.
think ‘save Darfur’ has become a mantra in America that has been going on for
so long that it’s now like ‘stop at a red light.’ It just means that much,”
Montgomery quips, before adding, “I don’t know what else we can do other than
what I keep saying, that we need an international armed force to go in and stop
in Never Again, Again, Again is a stark warning from Romeo Dallaire, the
Canadian general who led the UN mission in Rwanda during the genocide there. He
writes, “The global village is deteriorating at a rapid pace, and in the
children of the world, the result is rage. It is the rage I saw in the eyes of
the teenage Interhamwe militiamen in Rwanda…. Human beings who have no
rights, no security, no future, no hope and no means to survive are a desperate
group who will do desperate things to take what they believe they need and
acknowledges this desperation among Africans in certain countries on the
continent, but says it’s time also for the international community to “get
desperate” and embark on harsh measures to stop the mass killings in places
like Darfur and the DRC. Otherwise, she warns, there’ll be plenty of books like
hers lining library shelves in the near future.