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Lessons from the Genocide against the Tutsi – A Round-table Discussion

On Friday 23rd of October, Paul Rukesha from Aegis Trust Archive and Documentation e team, and Andreas Loepsinger from GIZ organized and moderated the first roundtable discussion at the archive library. This discussion focused on Janine Clark’s article titled “Learning from the Past: Three Lessons from the Rwandan Genocide”. Janine Clark is a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham.

In the discussed reading Clark talks about three lessons that can be learnt from the genocide against the Tutsi. The first lesson is that genocide perpetrators should not be dehumanised and should be given a voice; the second is that genocide is not carried out by monsters and psychopaths but by ordinary people who, under certain conditions turn into perpetrators; and the third lesson is that retributive justice alone is not enough to facilitate reconciliation in post-conflict societies.

This discussion started by encouraging participants to share their opinions about the reading, and the moderators clarified that they did not necessarily share the views expressed by the author. The first point to come up was how the title of Clark’s article was a bit problematic as it refers to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi as the “Rwandan Genocide”. The term “Rwandan Genocide” is frequently used by several authors when referring to the genocide against the Tutsi, but this appellation is ambiguous because it does not clearly reflect what happened in 1994 as it was confirmed by the United Nations Security Council.

The discussion continued with an elaborate debate on why perpetrators should be given a voice, and how it could be done. Participants settled that giving perpetrators a voice is useful to documenting the genocide, and helpful in educating young people about accountability and the consequences of the genocide on a personal and national level. Participants also noted that perpetrators testimonies tell unique stories that could help scholars and researchers to better understand the genocide against the Tutsi.

Additional points of discussion explored circumstances that can facilitate ordinary people to become perpetrators. Most participants concurred that genocide perpetrators are indeed ordinary people who have committed unordinary crimes. The discussion continued by examining if there were ways to reverse the conditions that enable these ordinary people to become perpetrators. Participants agreed that cultivating and practicing values like compassion and empathy could prevent ordinary people from committing genocide crimes.

This blog entry cannot do enough justice to the heated debates that took place while discussing the points mentioned above. It is not always that members from different Aegis Trust departments meet to discuss thought-provoking subjects such as the ones brought up by Clark in her article and how they relate to the work we do. I commend Rukesha and Loepsinger for initiating these roundtable discussion series, and am eagerly looking forward to the next one!

My Rwanda


My Address during the Friends of Rwanda (FORA)  20th fundraising dinner, at Laguna Town Hall in Elk Grove, California, USA. 

My Rwanda

I am happy to be here today to talk about young people and post-Genocide reconciliation in my country, Rwanda.

Immediately after the Genocide, people lived with mistrust and communities were fractured. There was limited interaction between survivors’ families and perpetrators’ families. Some even suggested that Rwanda should be divided into two countries. But instead, we chose to stay together. We put aside our differences and made unity our first priority.

Let me share a short story to give you an insight into the Rwanda of today. This story is one among many others that I know and it inspires me every day.

Martin and Jacques are two young boys coming from different family backgrounds. Despite this, they became friends in the first year of high school. One day, Martin asked Jacques to stay at his home: “Your parents live so far away from the school. Come and live with us,” Martin said to Jacques.

When Jacques reached Martin’s home, his parents objected. “Why are you bringing a Tutsi to our house?” Martin’s dad asked.

When Jacques’ family heard the news, they were very angry too. The parents went to see their son and said, “You should not be staying with Hutus”.

Despite pressure from their families, Martin and Jacques said to their parents, “We are brothers. We are friends. Nothing will change that”.

Both families quickly realized how inflexible Martin and Jacques were. They started to wonder” “Why should we try to separate the boys? Why are we dividing our children”? They realized they were wrong; the influence of their children drove them to began working to unite people around them. Today, both families are closer than ever.

This is only one story among thousands where young Rwandans, my peers, have chosen peace, forgiveness, unity and reconciliation. It’s a story that shows strong conviction and determination to change bad behaviors and habits. We call ourselves “Agaciro Generation”. Agaciro means “dignity” and is one of our national values. Today, we no longer define ourselves by outdated and inaccurate concepts of ethnicity. Today, we are Rwandans.

In so many ways, as Rwandans, we are shaped by our past but we can’t allow ourselves to be defined by it. Remembering what happened in Rwanda in 1994 is important for my generation. Young people must learn from the past in order to build a brighter future.

Sixty per cent of Rwandans are made of young people. We are an important force with a huge role to play in post reconstruction activities. But we need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to be active citizens and peace builders.

There are a number of incredible organisations in Rwanda working with young people to help them become champions for humanity in their communities.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is part of them. It is not only the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide; it is also a home for survivors, a place where they can come to pay respect to the victims, remember and try to heal. It is also a place for education for all.

It is a place that drives community conversations about the past, peace and reconciliation. With this in mind, the memorial, which is run by Aegis Trust, hosts a peacebuilding programme that works with community leaders, teachers and students to equip and empower young people with the values and skills to be change makers and peacemakers in their own communities.


Across the country, many other peace building initiatives are being led by my peers. Never Again Rwanda, the association of student survivors of the genocide GAERG and AERG, iDebate and Peace and Love Proclaimers are bringing communities together, driving social transformation by encouraging critical thinking and teaching about genocide and mass atrocity prevention.

I believe the values of empathy, compassion and forgiveness can be taught – and they are the foundation of a new, unconventional generation that is rebuilding Rwanda as I speak. Young people, like you and me, are at the forefront of this effort by helping to share these values with communities across the country.

Rebuilding Rwanda is not easy and it will not be perfect, but Martin and Jacques have shown us that it is possible.

Building Peace in Rwanda and Around the World

Rwanda is celebrating peace with the world

Each year the International Day of Peace is celebrated around the world on the 21st of September, and for the past few years, Rwanda has been joining the world in celebrating this day. Nationally, this year’s celebrations were marked by an event at Amahoro Stadium, in Kigali.

Held under the theme “Empowering a New Generation of Peacemakers”, the celebrations included the profiling of peace building activities initiated by young people. Many young peacemakers attended, including 260 youth champions trained by Aegis Trust through the Rwanda Peace Education Programme.

Aegis is contributing to peace education in Rwanda

Aegis Trust is involved in and has initiated different programmes to foster peace education and peace building in Rwanda. One of these programmes is the Rwanda Peace Education Programme run in collaboration with Radio La Benevolencija, the Institute for Research and Dialogue for Peace, and the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. This programme promotes social cohesion, positive values – including pluralism and personal responsibility – empathy, critical thinking and action to build a more peaceful society, and has been included in the national curriculum by the Rwanda Education Board.

Additional peace building activities run by Aegis include the training of youth champions. This training programme supports and promotes young people engaged in building peace in their communities through art, story telling and other activities. I cannot forget to mention the onsite and mobile exhibition activities run by the Aegis education team and Kigali Genocide Memorial. These activities are designed to teach the history of Rwanda and the importance of building peace. Thousands of secondary school students around the country, teachers, and others participate in these activities, and value this initiative.

Using lessons from Rwanda to build peace abroad

The latest and on-going peace initiative supported by Aegis is Walk For Peace. This walk was initiated in Kenya to inspire and engage young people from divided communities and help to break the cycle of violence. The Kenyan world champions in athletics, and the leaders from seven counties (Turkana, West Pokot, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Samburu, and Baringo) approached Aegis to facilitate this walk, and to help them teach and build peace like it is done in Rwanda. The walk is open for everyone around the world to join in through this website. Moreover, Aegis has been invited by government leaders and faith communities from South Sudan and the Central African Republic to share their experience in peace education and peace building.

Please learn more about what Aegis is doing in these countries, and support its peace activities by visiting the Aegis website.

Perpetrator Testimonies – A Tool For Peace Building After Genocide

After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in which more than one million Rwandans were killed, the world could not believe that humans committed those atrocities. The authors of the killings and mass sexual abuse were considered monsters – like those we are familiar with in horror movies. But, 21 years after the Genocide, attitudes towards perpetrators are evolving, even though some still question their normality and humanity. This shift can be attributed to efforts to bring about justice.

In the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, the alleged perpetrators were arrested and put in jail waiting for trial. This, however, did little to achieve that objective. On one hand, the capacity of the country’s legal system to judge suspects was insufficient due to the consequences of the Genocide and the unprecedented number of cases to be handled. On the other hand, the prisons were overpopulated, and the normal judicial system was not able to handle the problem in those very specific circumstances.

Survivors were calling for justice, while the alleged perpetrators and their families were awaiting a fair trial. This situation compelled the government to look for alternatives to the inherited western style of justice. They chose to reintroduce a traditional community based judicial system known as Gacaca.


The role of the Gacaca Courts

Before the implementation of Gacaca however, certain questions had to be answered: were the Gacaca Courts of the right calibre to judge genocide crimes? How could the tradition-based courts achieve national reconciliation? What would be the reaction from Rwandans in general, and from both survivors and perpetrators in particular?

To respond to all these questions, the Rwandan government listened to survivors and perpetrators. Under the umbrella of different associations, survivors expressed their fears, hopes, expectations, and doubts, which were taken into consideration when laws and policies about Gacaca Courts were being drafted. Alleged perpetrators did the same through different associations formed in prisons. This informed the establishment of the Gacaca Courts, which started their work in 2001. Some perpetrators who had confessed saw the benefits of Gacaca and toured the country to encourage others who committed crimes to come forward and speak up. The purpose was to reintegrate themselves and help rebuild the destroyed Rwandan community.

Recording perpetrator testimonies

The year 2005 was a turning point in the progress of the Gacaca Courts and in the reintegration of perpetrators into their communities. This is because many confessed their crimes, and their testimonies in most cases proved to be genuine. These confessions helped survivors to know the truth. They revealed where victims had been thrown into mass graves, pit latrines, forests, rivers, swamps, and they shed light on how the killings were organised.

After the Gacaca Courts finished their work in June 2012, the reintegration of perpetrators required that they be given a space to interact with other members of the society and express themselves. It was also realised that the testimonies of perpetrators needed to be recorded so that the world could learn about what happened in Rwanda and how genocide could be prevented from happening anywhere else in the world. This has been made possible thanks to the Aegis Trust, which established the Genocide Archive of Rwanda.


Since 2004, the Genocide Archive of Rwanda has collected, preserved, and provided access to genocide related materials including audio visual testimonies of survivors, perpetrators, rescuers, and Rwandan elders. By visiting the online collection, one can listen and watch perpetrators’ journey from destructive ideology to a life where they are integrated members of society and contributors to peace building and truth-telling.

Perpetrators contributing to peace building  

While the testimonies of perpetrators are psychologically challenging to hear, they help us understand and make sense of what happened. By listening to them, we give perpetrators the chance to explain the process by which their humanity was corrupted and how they are trying to regain it.

The association “Ndaje twiyunge muvandimwe” which means, “Brother, sister, I come over to reconcile” from Musambira Sector, Kamonyi District has reunited survivors and perpetrators and their families and is helping to rebuild lives through an agriculture cooperative. One member of the association said, “My neighbours who also committed Genocide and I decided to approach survivors and ask for forgiveness. We offered to rebuild their houses that we had destroyed in the Genocide.”

Perpetrators who explain about committing mass atrocities and their desire for reconciliation contribute to building sustainable peace in Rwanda. Perpetrators are now included as stakeholders in telling of the Rwandan story. They contribute to education programmes at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, in the remote areas through outreach programmes and also outside of Rwanda in the Central African Republic where their message of peace and humanity is shared so that future atrocities can be prevented.


Contemplations of a Muzungu

Rwandalust. A term coined by my university group from Australia to describe the beauty of this country and the blissful happiness we felt travelling around its rolling hills. It is impossible to reconcile the serenity of Rwanda today with the testimonies I have heard, memorial sites I have seen and knowledge I have accumulated relating to Rwanda’s recent history.

A group Monash University  student visiting Rwanda on a study tour
A group of Monash University student visiting Rwanda on a study tour.


Despite this challenge for the imagination, my Monash University group travelled to Rwanda on a study tour called Seeking Justice attempting to do just this: reconcile the irreconcilable. With the objective of gaining a greater understanding of post- genocide society, the tour gives students a unique and invaluable experience by travelling to the memorials and learning on- site.

Nothing could have emotionally prepared me for what we saw when visiting the genocide sites of Ntarama, Nyamata and Murambi. In each instance, scars of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi are intentionally preserved; weapons, bullet holes, rags of clothes, skulls, bones and even preserved bodies of the victims are on display. This form of raw memorialisation is both compelling and confronting, and serves a pedagogical function in the spirit of ‘never again.’

Ntarama Memorial.
Ntarama Memorial.

A most informative and well-curated source of Rwandan history is the Kigali Genocide Memorial. As both a museum and memorial, the KGM caters to both local and international audiences. It documents the genocide chronologically combining all forms of media, and also offers a broad overview of international genocides such as Namibia (herero people), the Holocaust and Cambodia. Particularly moving for myself was the children’s memorial upstairs. My throat constricted with tears as I passed by the images and descriptions of child victims. Furthermore, the mass graves of 259, 000 buried at the memorial leave a lasting impact.

The KGM was developed by Aegis in collaboration with the government of Rwanda, the Kigali City, survivor’s organisations and other groups. Today Aegis Trust runs the KGM on behalf on the government of Rwanda and works closely with the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG) to keep the site evolving. With the overall mission of preventing crimes against humanity, Aegis honours the victims and has a large focus on post- genocide peacebuilding and reconciliation. This involves assisting survivors and educating the community to ensure that memories are preserved and genocide does not ravage Rwanda ever again. Aegis also works through a number of social enterprises and outreach programs: a Museum Café, the Discover Rwanda youth hostel and a gift shop.

I am fortunate enough to be interning for one month with Aegis, specifically in the archive department. The ever-expanding database of content is astounding, as the team have managed to collect over 8000 materials ranging from photographs, newspaper articles, footage, TV broadcasts from the time, to testimonies from people who experienced the genocide from all angles (survivors, rescuers, perpetrators and elders). The recent re-launch of the archives website has made these materials accessible and is a way of digitally preserving memory.
My time in Rwanda and through working with Aegis Trust has shown me both the beauty and the sorrow.

On the one hand, Kigali is a hive of activity, freshly brewed coffee and expressions of art. I have mastered the moto- taxi and I love receiving friendly grins and high-fives from kids as I walk to work. I am struck by the vibrant colour and sound of the city, yet underlying this is my moment of reflection when I pause at my morning inspiration found in chipped paint on a stairwell: You don’t have to see the whole staircase just take the first step.

One may chuckle at me for psychoanalysing, but I believe this philosophy can be applied to the post- trauma healing process. The devastating consequences of genocide are far-reaching and recovery is complex. The nature of trauma is such like a scar that will never fade; yet the pain does subside with time, as do the physical remnants of genocide decay. Taking one step at a time towards peace education, equality and reconciliation is what Aegis and other organisations strive to achieve. My experiences here thus far have been incredible and thought provoking, and I find myself overwhelmed by a sense of Rwandalust.

A day with Paul Rukesha, the Genocide Archive of Rwanda’s Indexer

paul's blog photoWhat does it mean to be an ‘Indexer’?

I started working for the Genocide Archive of Rwanda four years ago when it first opened. As the archive’s resident indexer, my job is to make sure our audio and video content is easily accessible to the public. We have thousands of kinds of files and, without an indexer, it would be difficult for researchers to tell the difference between them. I attach keywords to every file which helps us sort them by categories such as type of experience and geographical place. Today we have 1,500 keywords in use. That may sound like a lot, but it is a relatively modest system. The Shoah Foundation, one of our partners, has 67,000 keywords.

How do you ensure accuracy when indexing?

It takes a lot of precision and attention to detail to be consistent in the vocabulary we use. Often we watch videos or listen to testimonies over and over to make sure the labels we assign to each minute of material are correct.

For instance, take terms “hiding” and “identity concealment”. They sound very similar, but the distinctions are important:
“Hiding” is concealing yourself physically – for instance, an attacker is coming and you flee and hide.
“Identity concealment” means that you go through a crowd of people and try to blend in with them, hiding who you really are. It’s not quite hiding; it is more complex.

To the researchers who rely on our archives, these differences are important and we need to be aware of them.

We also have to be as objective as possible in our work. When I’m watching a survivor talking about living in a refugee camp. I can’t assign the label “bad living conditions” to that moment of the footage. Instead, I would write “living conditions.” Indexers can’t mix their feelings and emotions into the work they are doing. If we did that we would compromise the integrity of the archive.

It’s also important to find a middle ground with keywords – not too general and not too detailed. If you are too general, you miss information and the story doesn’t appear interesting to the user. If you are too detailed, it can be confusing to understand the main themes. When new indexers start, they tend to be too detailed because they are captured by the stories. But we don’t do historians’ work. We help historians to find the story they are looking for.

What difficulties are there translating meaning from one culture to another?

There are some generalities that people from abroad are not familiar with. Here in Rwanda, most people have a ‘houseboy’ or ‘housegirl’ – someone who lives at your house and looks after the yard, runs errands, and keeps the house safe. That is a reality the Western world is not familiar with, because in the US or Europe only very rich people have live-in help. During the genocide, some of the houseboys killed their bosses and stole their properties. So when people mention ‘houseboy’ in the footage, and we use that as a keyword, it is sometimes difficult for Westerners to understand the relationship.

Most of the testimonies Rwandans give us are in Kinyarwanda, our most spoken language. We subtitle the video and audio content in other languages like English and French. But there are a lot of cultural aspects that don’t directly translate. We do our best and warn the viewer that the original work may be slightly altered by translation.

How does the team support each other?

When you are indexing traumatic material all the time, it can cause secondary trauma. To help deal with this, we talk to each other and share our challenges, we have a psychologist come in and talk to us and we also take breaks. Sometimes when you are indexing the testimony of perpetrators and you feel it’s becoming too much, you change and go to rescuers because their stories are softer. Sometimes, the team might need a week off from indexing and focus on other activities of the archive. The most challenging thing is that you share the stories with the person you are interviewing or reviewing. You have to go through what he or she has been through to fully understand it. It’s important to understand, but you also have to take care of yourself.

It is not just psychologically challenging for the indexing team, it can be stressful for the interviewees. Although they volunteer to share their testimonies, some break down when recalling their experiences. In the beginning, we didn’t have the capacity to provide support to the interviewees. Now we have a counsellor who comes to work with them before, during and after the interview. Most of our counsellors are Rwandan, but some are international. Palo Alto University has helped train our team on how to cope with these kinds of sensitive situations.

We have so much work to do at the archive to digitise all of these stories. But we never forget the survivors we interview. Sometimes they are poor and we know they really suffered in remembering their story, so we go back and try to help them ourselves. You feel responsible. The interview is done, but I feel I have to go back. When we’re hiring for our team, we look for someone who can deal with these complicated situations, someone who may have lived through difficult experiences and someone who can understand fully.

How do you prepare someone to give their testimony?

We discuss and debate this a lot. How can we prepare them enough before the interview, so they fully accept and understand what it might mean to give their history. You have to explain the whole process.

On the consent form, we give multiple options – the interviewee’s testimony can be on a Rwandan website, or only on a foreign website, or maybe in a foreign museum but not in Rwanda. Some say “I still have young kids and I don’t want them to hear what happened to me yet”, while others say “you can share my story but only after 10 years”.

What does indexing and your work archiving the genocide mean to you?

I am in position of developing tools that help people to have a hands on learning experience and to view the genocide from different angles. Knowing that people from around the world can develop deep knowledge about the genocide is a big part of why I am proud of my work.

I feel I am useful to social psychologists, historians, sociologists, economists, educators, just to name a few. Most importantly, I learn new realities about the genocide as I go through the interviewees’ life stories, and the online tools that I create channel that knowledge to a bigger audience.



One Million Dead, Infinite Stories To Tell

“My sister, with her last breath, crawled towards me, trying to say something. She died with her hand on my arm. How brave that even in her last moment she wanted me safe.” Nelson Gashagaza recalls.

As I read about the brutal death of my cousin Penzi, memories from my childhood come back to life. I grew up with Nelson and our other cousins. Like many children, we spent a lot of time at our grandma’s house. A picture of Penzi, hung in the living room of our grandma, was a constant reminder that she once was here, alive and beautiful. No one ever really talked about her- at least not when I was there. For what I knew, this was an off-limits topic with Nelson.

Like many people around the world, especially Rwandans, I have been reading stories on the genocide. Reports on the commemoration events are flooding in from all parts of the world. Friends are calling each other to offer words of comfort. Families are gathering to remember their loved ones.


With every year that I take part in the commemoration events- mostly by listening to those who were there- I come to a new realization. This year, I am struck with the powerful personal stories that honor and give dignity to the victims of the genocide.

Over the years, there has definitely been a shift in how the stories about the genocide are told. The path that survivors have taken, I believe, directly impacts this. Overcoming loss and grief with stories of empowerment and triumph has been key in the sharing of testimonies.

I remember growing up in Rwanda, and dreading the months of April through July, but more so, the week of April 7th to April 14th. The stories were mostly filled with gruesome details. They offered no closure. Usually abruptly ended. Survivors choking on tears. Commemoration spaces startled with sudden wails from a survivor recalling an event. Red Cross workers rushing those overwhelmed with trauma. Counselors swarming commemoration sites to offer support.

Today, I am incredibly fascinated by the ability of the survivors to tell their stories in compelling and dignified ways. It might be the time that is going by, and people have found coping mechanisms that work for them. Maybe, they are just, different stories.

A dear friend of mine, Rwabigwi, wrote a very compeling piece this week. After I read it, I told him: “I have a headache from reading it- a worthy headache though.” What he was describing was harrowing, and for the most part unimaginable. I was thinking about Ange, the girl whose story he wrote about. Though I don’t know her, the family members that she describes in her story became real on my computer screen. There is a story attached to their lives, a worthy account of humanity. A story of unending love beyond the limits of our universe. An unimaginably beautiful transcendence of life and death by way of trauma.

When I read Nelson’s story, and the things that he remembers about his loving sister Penzi, I was completely taken aback by her sudden realness. I now feel that I can think of her, beyond her being a part of the one million people who died. She has a story, she has a name, and she has someone who has her memory.

Many times, we hear names. Names and places. Most stories lie in the hearts and the memories of those who remember them. Stories are powerful. They give meaning to our lives. They occupy a space in a universe parallel to ours. Our bodies will leave this world, but the stories we tell will be passed down to generations to come. As I read Nelson’s account of Penzi’s last moments, she is reincarnated through this story. Her love for her brother and her symbol of “holding on” humanize her for me, more than ever before.

To those who have memories, to those who heard the last words, I ask: If you find it in your heart, tell a story. When years have passed, and the first account bearers of the memory of genocide are long gone, the world will have stories. Stories to humanize the numbers. And that is important.

Remembering At Umudugudu

It is April. The seventh. Twenty-one since ‘94. Early morning, everything is quiet. You only hear a bird’s call. There is almost no traffic on the streets. Quite like in the previous years, on the same date.

Things are different today. No crowd is headed to Amahoro Stadium, the biggest in the country. Crowds are heading to the new meeting points. We meet here for the monthly meetings after the community service known as Umuganda.


This year, we gather to mark the 21st anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi at the village, umudugudu level.

There are approximately five hundred people here. I join them. Calm and reserved. I take a seat. There is no protocol. I show myself around.

At the gathering, there is a Senator. A Professor and an Army official. There is a boutique owner. There is a student, a young boy, and a young girl. There is a businesswoman; a taximan and a construction worker. A nurse, too. We all sit together. We all live in the same neighbourhood.

A woman takes the floor. She reaffirms why it is important to remember and what Kwibuka21 is all about. She is well listened to.

A man takes the floor. He details the history of ethnicity in Rwanda — one we have listened to over and over again, over the years. But there’s always something new to learn.

The young and the old listen. Carefully, as they all sit side by side.

An old man stands up, he re-affirms the origins of Tutsi, Hutu and Twa labels. He says he used to be called Tutsi; that, maybe, his grandfather (who owned no cattle or other properties) might have been something else — Hutu, or Twa. He goes on to explain the old strategies of the white.

There seems to be no absolute voice here. People speak freely and enthusiastically.

A young lady steps forward. She expresses gratitude to the people who have tirelessly shared their knowledge about Rwanda’s history over the years, and those who’ve spoken on the subject today. She, however, suggests the need to keep identifying and publicly acknowledging experts in the country’s history.

Another man speaks. He sounds uncertain, and his words sound unclear — at least to my ear. Some people in the crowd disagree. They laugh — in a strange sound of a “booo”. Some seem to agree. Others, simply chill.

At this point, people here discuss. They debate; they cheer, share, agree or disagree. They also exchange critical thinking. It’s all allowed. But above all, they honour those who lost their lives by re-exploring the past, looking farahead.

A young boy stands up. He looks 11. Or 13. Well, he’s definitely no older than 16 — you can bet. He greets the crowd: “Muraho!”

He says his name is Ngendayimana. He’s confident and clear. He uses words like “murabyumva” — in the polite sense. He also says, “twese turakuze.” We are all mature. He warns parents who do not want to share their knowledge of history with their children just because they “think we’re just kids” and not ready. He wants to see parents educating their children about Rwanda’s history, so that his generation too, is better equipped to do the same in the future.

It rains. But the exchange continues.

Few minutes later, at noon, we take a minute of silence. Seconds after, we listen to the President’s speech. It’s live on TV and radio. Poignant, like always, and reassuring — he says, “this country has changed. It will never be the same.” He adds: “It has changed for good and forever.”

Indeed. Rwanda has changed — better off.

Talking to Julia Viebach, Rwandan memorial researcher

Julia Viebach received her PhD from Philipps-University of Marburg, where she held a position as research fellow. Her doctoral research explored how societies remember their past after massive violence, and how they transform a traumatic rupture evoked by this violent experience. Focused on the case of Rwanda, her thesis is both an empirical enquiry into memorialisation and transitional justice in Rwanda, as well as the development of a broader theoretical concept of how societies deal with an uncanny past.julia.viebach

In 2013, she was appointed a postdoctoral fellow in an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project on “Ways of Knowing Atrocity.” In May 2014, she began a Career Development Lectureship Position in Oxford followed by a new postdoctoral position starting beginning of 2015. Her new postdoctoral project, funded by the UK Leverhulme Trust Fund, will enable her to continue her work on Rwanda for the upcoming three years. Her project “Atrocity’s Archives: The Remnants of Transitional Justice” will compare the archival documents of the Gacaca courts and those of the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda). She has been conducting research in Rwanda since 2008.


GAR: Tell me about your work.

JV: I started my research on Rwanda in 2008, first exploring issues pertaining to development aid. After my first fieldwork trip, I started to wonder how people are able to live together after such a violent rupture as the genocide was. In turn, my interest shifted to Rwandan memorials and the annual commemoration. While the Gacaca courts and the work of the ICTR have been in the spotlight ever since they took up their work, the memorials and commemoration have been widely neglected in the practice and theory of transitional justice.

So, I decided to write a PhD on that topic. Between 2011 and 2014, I explored the Rwandan memorials and the commemoration, particularly from a survivor perspective. I was and still am interested in what ways survivors come to terms with the genocide through memorials and commemoration and the meaning-making of memory for the future.

I will hopefully publish my book on the memorials next year.


GAR: How did you first become interested in Rwanda?

JV: I first became interested in Rwanda at University; I had and still have a strong peace and conflict studies background, and Rwanda was a case often referred to in my courses. I started reading loads of books on it and then decided that I want to write my PhD on Rwanda. I’m hoping to contribute to a better understanding of the legacies of the genocide and its impact on Rwanda today.


GAR: What is the role of the researcher in peace building? Do you see your work as documenting peace building and conflict resolution efforts or contributing to them?

JV: This is a difficult question. As a researcher you do not make peace, but you help to understand – through engaging with the people on the ground – its pitfalls, challenges and best practices. It’s more than just documenting, but also delivering empirical foundations for a better and deeper understanding of the processes on the ground. This in turn may lead to direct actions based on research – though this always depends on the political circumstances and the willingness of actors and institutions to act upon it.


GAR: What role do archives – particularly the GAR – play in your work?

JV: They play a big role – not only for my work, but for a post-conflict society as such. Archives preserve the memory of a violent past for future generations and may help a better understanding of past crimes and how they have been addressed. They are related to the United Nations principles of the right to know and the duty to remember.

The GAR plays a particularly important role for my work since it combines

survivor and perpetrator testimonies, in written form and as audio; it documents the geographical sites of the memorials and will host the Gacaca archives. This is a massive contribution to preserving the memory of the genocide, but also the ways it has been dealt with.


GAR: What new roles might archives play in the future that they are not playing right now?

JV: I think the archives we know right now are less related to mass violence and genocide, and particularly to the ways these have been addressed in post-conflict societies. Since transitional justice is a fairly new concept that has gained dominance over the last 20 years or so, we now witness increasingly the end of transitional justice processes such as for example the Gacaca courts, the ICTR, the ICTY etc. Thus, the archives will not only shed light on the violent deeds of the past but also on the mechanisms that have tried to fight impunity and re-install accountability. With that in mind, the role they will play in the future is particularly related to assessing the transitional justice mechanisms put in place and in what ways they narrate different stories about mass atrocities opposed to those we already know through other means. This is what I will work on during my Leverhulme Trust fellowship.


GAR: What do you think the world should understand about the Rwandan genocide and its memorialization that it doesn’t understand now?

JV: The world has a very superficial view on Rwandan memorials that is particularly characterised by making cultural references to how memorialisation should or should not be. The world has mainly decided the Rwandan memorials are not good. What they should know is there are many layers to be unpacked when talking about and understanding Rwandan memorials. For the survivors I talked to and the care-takers at memorials, these sites are places to find peace, to come to terms with their traumatic experiences, places to re-make what has been lost, to undo what has been smashed; they are sites of meaning-making, to find dignity and respect for the dead. It is time for the world to acknowledge this.


GAR: For those who don’t know much about Rwandan memorials, can you explain why they have been criticized?

JV: Contestations arise with regard to the exposure of human remains such as bones, skulls and even entirely preserved dead bodies. It is also criticised that the memorials are re-traumatising and are not embedded in Rwandan burial culture. Before the genocide, people were mostly buried on their relatives’ ground – in the banana plantation etc; the dead were never exposed or displayed — solely in some cases for vigils and death-watch. As to the latter, my interviewees pointed out that genocide wasn’t part of Rwandan culture either and given its scale new ways had to be found to bury people and to commemorate the dead. The genocide was experienced as such a drastic rupture in culture that cultural frames had to be changed.


Aba Youth

“Aba youth”- meaning “The youth”. That’s something I’m getting used to hearing every day at work and I wear the label proudly.

My name is Gael Rutembesa and I coordinate Film and Photography projects in the Aegis Trust youth department, which promotes peace and reconciliation through story telling. It has opened my eyes to a whole new world – A world where Rwandan youth are empowered to make a difference.Film & Photography

We organised workshops conducted by professionals to equip the youth with skills in filming and photography. I was impressed by the curiosity and passion the participants had. They asked endless questions, and with the trainers’ knowledge and experience in the field, a very fulfilling dialogue was formed. Later on, the participants were challenge to tell their stories under the theme, “Peace and Culture as a way to sustainable development.”

It is amazing to see the extent to which the creativity young people possess can stretch. All they need to do is to tap into the talents and abilities they have and to be pointed in the right direction.

“Aba youth” are the real deal – They are the future.