Amb. Sezibera says the world should remember ‘victims of genocide are not statistics’

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Dr Richard Sezibera’s remarks for the 50th commemoration of massacres in former Gikongoro, January 26, 2014.

In 1959, the people of Bufundu received a very unwelcome Christmas gift. Tutsi huts were burnt, a number of people deported from their villages to become, literally, internal refugees, in their own Country, denied of their rights, and barely tolerated as human beings, let alone Rwandans.

Some members of my family fled the country then, the majority stayed, hoping the events thereof were an aberration, and that neighbours would once again live together in peace. Indeed, when the paroxysm if violence passed, neighbours helped the victims rebuild their homes.

That hope was shattered in 1963, when orchestrated violence once again erupted. This time, the chase for, and killing of the Batutsi was planned, brutal, and systematic. It targeted men, women, and children for the crime of being Tutsi. It was genocide.

My own father did not survive the killings this time. A teacher in Shyogwe at the time, he was killed for the crime of taking his newly wedded bride home for Christmas. His brother was hunted like an animal, assaulted and left for dead. Fortunately he survived.

There are many survivors of the genocide in Gikongoro in 1963. They deserve to tell their stories, and we need to listen.

I never could understand the motivation of people who were intent on exterminating a section of the Rwandan population. I wondered whether it was madness, something in the waters of Gikongoro, or some terrible historical crime that was being avenged.

When I finally got to Gikongoro in 1994, after the majority of the rest of my family had been killed in the genocide, when I asked their neighbours, some of whom had participated in the killings, why, the answer was an incongruous one.

They told me it was due to “muyaga”! A ferocious wind that selectively blew the Batutsi away!  Implicit in that understanding was the fact that once the wind had passed, life returned to normal until the next gust came along. In other words, the Batutsi would be blown away like chaff.

I was amazed. There was no anger. No visible joy either. It was just one of those things that happened. It was in the nature of things. The muyaga came, the Tutsi were blown away, calm returned, and life continued.

The only difference being that the leaders simply appropriated the property of those they had killed as happened in my father’s case, and they then were promoted. The banality of it was frightening and sickening.

I finally got to meet one of those leaders who had distinguished themselves in the killings of 1963. A man named Andrew Nkeramugaba. He was then elderly, with unsteady shifty eyes, and bad breath. He was unapologetic about what he and his colleagues had done.

In fact, he was publicly baffled at how Rwanda still had many Tutsis, and he said so. In one public meeting, confronted with some of his survivors and their testimonies, he was clearly at a loss as to why the death of the Batutsi as he called them should be any body’s concern. It pained him to see many survivors in the audience. I guess that was poetic justice indeed!

So today, we remember the victims of genocide. We remember them in silence, for words cannot express our emotion. But we also remember them in public, for those who killed them, imagined that they could wipe out an entire group from our collective memory.

Public remembrance is our victory over them. There are those who think we simply honour the dead. That all those who died deserve remembrance the same way we remember victims of genocide. They miss the point. Since 1959, 1963, and 1994, we have lost other members of our families.

We remember them, but they were not victims of genocide. We have special commemoration of the victims of genocide because in the last analysis, genocide is an attempt to exterminate an entire group of people. Humanity we are told is made in the image of God, and genocide is therefore deicide, an attempt to kill God.

They killed because they had no belief. We remember because we believe in the protection of humanity, and the victory of good over evil. We also remember to fortify ourselves and renew our determination that never shall our generation, and generations after us, allow a repeat of what happened.

That should be our vow, that should be our determination, and we should have no hesitation in combating those who would negate or revise our history, or even worse, join intellectual and physical forces with the ideological repositories of genocide today, wherever they may be found.

I thank you for remembering. For not letting the blood of the innocent dead fail to sear the memories of the living. For letting the World know that the victims of genocide are not statistics. That they are human beings, with names, remembered and celebrated, not thrown into the oblivion their exterminators intended them to be.

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