15 March 2015

Letter from Nyamata genocide memorial, outside Kigali, Rwanda.

by Marc Masurovsky
Entrance to Nyamata Genocide Memorial
The skulls and bones of more than 10,000 Tutsi murdered at Nyamata (45,000 remains are buried there from other killing sites) lie in this Catholic compound-men, women, children, infants and newborns. Their tattered clothes, covered with dried up blood, are piled in heaps atop wooden benches inside the church where people once prayed and where frightened Tutsi sought sanctuary in the bosom of the Church that they had embraced as good Catholics.

The clothes bear witness to their failure to be heard and to the failure of the Church to protect them.

Inside the church at Nyamata
The Catholic Church in Rwanda ate up its flock. Churches became killing grounds favored by Hutu militiamen and Rwandan soldiers. Hutu priests and nuns went after their Tutsi colleagues, without mercy, and handed over their Tutsi flock to their butchers.

There are bullet holes everywhere inside the Nyamata church, including through the roof. The light comes through like narrow beams.

To Hutu militiamen, the Virgin Mary was a Tutsi because of her looks-tall and elongated face, slender bones. The Hutu militia shot her and busted her left plaster shoulder. Guilty as charged.

Jesus Christ? Get Him out of the church so that He cannot side with the victims.
The tabernacle inside Nyamata Church
The Hutu shot bullets into a tabernacle, thinking that it would be sufficient to drive Jesus out.

God? The militia invoked (their) God to justify the eradication of the Tutsi saying that (their) God wanted revenge against the Tutsi.

Deaths by the thousands inside a packed church.
Skulls of Tutsi victims inside burial crypt
Once upon a time, a young Tutsi woman rejected the advances of young Hutu men. Then came the genocide. On April 13, 1994, Hutu militia reached Nyamata, on the outskirts of Kigali and the spurned Hutu men sought revenge against the young Tutsi woman who had rejected their advances. Were they her friends or just neighborhood acquaintances?

I don’t know how many of these boys there were but it must have been a pack of them who violated her. According to one source, there were 20 of them. Her name was Annonciata Mukandoli. She was 28 years old.

Based on the story told at the memorial, the young Tutsi woman was wounded, she was repeatedly raped, she was killed, her corpse was tortured (does torture still exist after death?). Then came the final act. The Hutu men drove a stake through her vagina as far as they could. Was their quest for revenge finally sated?
Instruments of death used against Tutsi at Nyamata

What is left of her rests inside a coffin in a specially-built crypt beneath the church floor. It is draped in a white cloth, a large wooden cross lain across it.
Annunciata's final resting place in the crypt of Nyamata
Physical violence, sexual violations, death, postmortem defilements and impalement. Is there a name for such behavior?

Why is there room for it amongst us, despite us?

The guide explained that the young men’s behavior could be attributed to brainwashing. Here I disagree. That would mean that one is not responsible for one’s actions. Perhaps, brainwashing is a diagnosis that makes it possible to conduct a form of spiritual exorcism, getting the devil out of you, the same one who made you impale a young woman just because she would not accept your sexual advances.

I frankly don’t believe in brainwashing. I don’t believe that the dog made them do it. If mass murder accompanied by violations and defilements of the human body is an expression of dissociative disorder or some other serious psychological condition, we need to seriously wonder who we are and what makes us tick. Failing any psycho-medical assessment of the genocidal personality, you end up believing in your own idols and you act accordingly. Willing the death of another human being is exactly that: an act of will, which means that, as a sentient creature, you decide to kill. You decide to defile. You decide to maim. You decide to violate and to rape. The devil did not make you do it. You made that decision. After thousands of years, the mystery remains whole: how to prevent such acts from ever taking place.

And yet, in an unprecedented feat of national post-genocide healing in Rwanda known as the Gacaca* (named after the short, thick grass on which villagers sat to attend these "trials", which lasted close to 12 years), tens of thousands of Hutu killers and rapists have reconciled with their surviving Tutsi victims after undergoing a very complex process, often painful and difficult, for all parties, but especially for the victims.  A number of the reconciled have even become close friends. Contrition, forgiveness and reconciliation on a national scale is unprecedented in the annals of modern history, let alone in the era of genocides. Such an outcome was inconceivable in post-Holocaust Europe, in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia after 1993. We need to understand why.

What does that say about us, as human beings? Is Rwanda an anomaly or can there truly be forgiveness and reconciliation after a crime of genocide, regardless of where it occurs?

Still, the story of human beings’ presence on Earth is soaked in blood. Grim as it is, we coexist with those who thirst to see blood spill on the ground for reasons all their own. It is the phantasmagoria called life.

For more on the reconciliation process, go to http://www.reach-rwanda.org, and the work of the REACH organization in Rwanda.

For more on the Gacaca, go to

The Gacaca Archives are presently closed to the public. They are under the supervision of the CNLG (National Commission for the Fight against Genocide) and are being physically stored in the facilities of the Rwandan National Police.  There is currently underway an effort to organize these extraordinary archives. They hold an estimated 60 million pages of testimonials and rulings administered throughout post-genocide Rwanda.  These archives contain the memory of Rwanda past and future.