Saturday, 20 August 2016

The genocide museum

In an earlier post I talked about Rwanda's remarkable transformation since the 1994 genocide which left a million people dead and the country in ruins. Most places have some kind of memorial for the victims but the most harrowing one I visited was the Genocide Museum in Kigali, built on the site of mass graves where more than 250,000 people are buried. The museum traces the background to the events of 1994, the 100 days of slaughter, and what the outside world did to stop the killing (nothing). The museum pulls no punches about the European countries it says helped the perpetrators.
The most distressing part of the museum is the children's room, with life-size photos of a dozen or so of the child victims. Each photo is accompanied by their name, age, favourite food and pastimes, a short description, and the manner in which they died. Most were hacked to death with machetes.

 Detail of the genocide memorial in Kibuye

Everyone in Rwanda has a story about the genocide and everyone over the age of about 25 witnessed it. It's beyond me how perpetrators and victims' families are able to live side by side, as they must because so many people were involved they can't all be jailed. A few days ago I met someone who still lives next door to the man who murdered his mother. He told me he couldn't touch his neighbour because the government takes a hard line against anyone seeking revenge; instead, it has set up a system of community courts and restorative justice which has so far heard 1.2 million cases. All the same, it will take a few generations for this country to heal.

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