Learning About the Genocide

small-1My name is Yvette Umutoniwase and I am in charge of research and content development at the Genocide Archive of Rwanda. When I started working at the archive a year ago, I didn’t know what was waiting for me. Since then, I have been lucky to do something that interests me, challenges me and gives me the opportunity to constantly learn.

I didn’t know much about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi when I joined the archive. Mostly because I didn’t want to learn, and also because I was scared of what I might learn.

I survived the genocide when I was seven years old. As a child, I didn’t understand much about what went on in 1994. When I was growing up, I did my best to ignore and forget everything about the genocide.

Today I learn about the genocide every day I go to work. I read documents and reports from the archive, write about killing and memorial sites and research genocide related subjects. Needless to say, I read and write about the genocide a lot. And even though it’s a scary and depressing subject, it’s also very interesting. I cannot claim to know everything about the genocide, I cannot even claim to know enough. I always feel like I have so much to learn, and I know I will never stop learning.

My favourite part of the work I do is field research. Most often this involves interviewing people. The largest part of the archive’s collection is testimonies given by people with different experiences of the genocide: survivors, perpetrators, rescuers and elders. It’s my job to meet with these people and collect their stories.

Yvonne - connecting people 1During my last field research, my colleagues and I went to Rusizi in the south west of the country to arrange interviews with people who had committed the genocide. We met with five perpetrators from different villages in the district who were willing to give their testimonies.

Before we conduct the interviews (which are video recorded) we give interviewees a pre-interview questionnaire to fill in. As I was helping the interviewees complete the questionnaire, two of the perpetrators told me they were related. As soon as they told me, I saw a striking resemblance between them. They looked alike, except one was clearly older than the other. It turned out that they were father and son.

I was incredibly surprised when they told me. In all my time at the archive I had never met two perpetrators who were father and son. Questions started to run through my mind. How could that happen? When they went to kill people, did they leave home together as if they are going for a normal father-son activity?

I have heard a lot of different stories about children who grew up with the shame of what their parents had done during the genocide – stories of fathers who didn’t want their sons to kill and stories of sons who didn’t want their fathers to kill. In most stories, a family has one perpetrator and I subconsciously thought that was the standard. Meeting these two men had me wondering about the effect it has on a family to have more than one perpetrator in the family. Does it increase the guilt the rest of the family feels? How is the relationship between the two perpetrators? And do they relate to the rest of the family? I know the answers to these questions will be complex and challenging.

The testimonies we collect, from both survivors and perpetrators, are difficult to hear but they are an incredibly important resource for learning and teaching. By listening to those who were here in 1994, by asking them about their experiences and by sharing what we learn with the world, our team is helping to educate about the factors that lead to genocide and how to prevent it from happening again.

When I first started working at the archive I didn’t realise the kinds of experiences my work would give me. Today, I’ve learnt more than I could have imagined and met people from all walks of life. I’m incredibly grateful to contribute in a small way to our global understanding of genocide as well as learn something new everyday.

Yvette Umutoniwase is a Research Assistant at the Genocide Archive of Rwanda. She develops content, conducts research and collects information to build the archive’s collections.


Yvette Umutoniwase is a Research Assistant at the Genocide Archive of Rwanda. She develops content, conducts research and collects information to build the archive’s collections.

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