Old media reports deprive Rwandan genocide survivors of the right to be forgotten

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Audience at the main Rwandan genocide commemoration event at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali on the 7th of April, 2014. Photo: Sally Hayden.

One of the biggest challenges following the Rwandan genocide was getting it classified as such. As the international community faltered and fiddled and failed to appreciate what was happening, Rwandans shouted their experiences through shrouds of shock, grateful to anyone would listen and believe that such horror was possible.

Now with each anniversary those stories and images reappear throughout the media. And many survivors, once so grateful for a voice, have come to resent this exposure.

This issue first came to my attention in a conference in the Rwandan parliament on the weekend that this year’s official period of mourning began. As questions were taken from the floor, a passionate voice piped up. “I’m not asking about what happened because I was there and I have seen it, but there is another issue now. As survivors we all wanted to tell and to say what had happened. There are at least two or three women I know pregnant from rape, they only wanted to talk. But twenty years later you still see your image coming out from BBC, CNN…” Speaking, I learn, is Odette Nyiramilimo, a physician, former government minister and current East African senator. Ethnically a Tutsi, she survived the genocide in the Hotel des Mille Collines, a scene later depicted in the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’.

We meet again a few weeks later. Nyiramilimo sits in a bright, airy office, on the fourth floor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A portrait of President Paul Kagame hangs over her head. She’s busy; her phone buzzes as we talk.

She tells me story after story.

The story of a girl, aged 15 during the genocide, who was taken by her parents’ killers to the DRC and raped. When she escaped she was pregnant, and after she gave birth to a son she handed him to relatives to raise so she could attend university and start her life anew. She met a boy and they got engaged; then he travelled to Canada to finish his schooling. There, on the TV, he saw old footage of her speaking about her rape and called her in shock. With her engagement over, the girl called Nyiramilimo asking “what do I do? I don’t want that story to be following me my whole life. Now I am well, I just finished university and I want to be normal.”