This web log has been created to encourage a long-lasting peace in Rwanda, a stable peace which must be based upon mutual understanding, respect, and trust between Hutus and Tutsis. Most of these pages will consist of stories and narratives describing how many Rwandans struggled to save one another in the face of the 1994 genocide and its aftermath. It is administered by Paul Conway, Professor of Political Science at the State University College of New York at Oneonta, and Stephen Gatsinzi and Edmond Murenzi in Kigali.

Mahmood Mamdani has suggested that most adult Rwandans today should be considered survivors because they have lost loved ones and suffered grievously from crimes that should never be forgotten.* Certainly, all of those who committed violent crimes such as murder and rape should be punished. The stories below are evidence that despite the extensive and widespread participation of Hutus in the 1994 genocide, there were countless thousands who refused to stand by or cooperate in the killings and atrocities.  An unknown number of those courageous individuals who risked their own lives in efforts to save Tutsis were killed. Some of those rescuers who survived are recognized as heros today. Their stories may contribute to the slow, agonizing process of  ‘reconciliation’ that must still be pursued even though the genocide happened two decades ago.**

The stories of survivors and rescuers come from a variety of published and unpublished sources (including interviews conducted in 2007). Some stories are briefly summarized elsewhere. Although most of the stories are recorded in English, some are in Kinyarwanda and some in French. Individuals interviewed for this blog were also asked for their opinions about the gacaca process. Much has occurred since the gacaca process ended in 2012. Readers in Rwanda are now encouraged to respond in any of these languages. In addition to the stories of rescuers, a number of useful essays and studies that suggest insights into the strengths and weaknesses of reconciliation efforts will be listed below. There is no suggestion that outsiders know or can tell Rwandans how best to pursue the difficult path to a hopeful and peaceful future. Rwandans themselves will decide in their own communities as part of a still proud, independent nation.

* In the conclusion to his analysis entitled ‘When Victims Become Killers,’ (Princeton University Press, 2001) Mamdani emphasizes that the historical roots of the genocide go back to the Rwabugiri reforms at the turn of the previous century and subsequent colonial ‘reforms’ from 1926-36 that racialized ethnic  identities and hardened Tutsi privilege. There were numerous mass murders that caused many Tutsis to flee to neighboring countries after Rwanda became independent.in 1962. There were also mass killings of Hutus in Rwanda and also in Burundi in the 1970’s. Given that complex background, the 1994 genocide must be understood within the context of Rwanda’s civil war. That war was shaped by regional dynamics such as the persecution of ethnic Tutsis in Uganda, who were under great pressure to leave there prior to the 1990 RPF invasion of Rwanda during the Habyarimana regime.

** The term reconciliation refers here to informal as well as formal efforts to promote justice, tolerance, and understanding, to create a stable, long-lasting peace.

Bystanders and Rescuers

In the aftermath of 20th century genocides, many stories that were told by survivors described “bystanders” and rescuers as well as the perpetrators who tortured and killed helpless victims. The survivors of Rwanda’s 1994 catastrophe likewise identified countless individuals who risked their own lives to save others. Increasingly, the stories of heroic rescuers, including many who died as a result of their courageous efforts, are documented and widely appreciated for their educational and inspirational value.

Some who were bystanders trapped in the maw of murderous activities found themselves participating in the violence, fearing that they or their loved ones would suffer retribution if they did not. At other times they saw opportunities to save others and did so. Thus the categories — perpetrators, bystanders, and rescuers – were not exclusive.  Many who opposed the persecution of people from another group did at times actively or passively facilitate the crimes. The behavior of ordinary people was a consequence of their personal character  and their situations, which varied considerably. In Rwanda the proportion of (Hutu) civilians who were pressured to participate in the killing of Tutsis was much higher than in most other genocides. To be sure, it took unusual courage for those who did act in opposition to authorities and even their friends, relatives, and neighbors.

Research on the character of  rescuers during the Holocaust in Europe suggests that they typically had a general sense of that all humans deserved rights and respect regardless of race, religion or ethnicity; they expressed values such as equality and social justice. Surprisingly, perhaps, a small minority (less than one in five) said they were motivated by their religious faith.

In Rwanda, some of the rescuers identified in the stories here said they acted spontaneously, others calculated the risks to themselves or family members before they acted. Many said they were motivated by their religious faith. As some of these stories suggest, people who were under great pressure to obey and participate in the searches and killings were able to protect and save endangered Tutsis or Hutus. For many of the heroic rescuers in Rwanda, religion was an important factor that motivated their behavior; for many others their motivation was less clear. Readers of the stories on this blog who are interested in the research on rescuers in genocides and reconciliation in Rwanda are encouraged to consult some of the sources below.

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Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999.

Linda Melvern, Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide, London: Verso, 2004

Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University, NJ, 2001, especially in the concluding chapter on “political reform after genocide”, pp 264-282.

Villia Jefremovas, Acts of Human Kindness: Tutsi, Hutu and the Genocide
Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 23, No. 2, Rwanda (1995), pp. 28-31
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1166503
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1166503?seq=2
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1166503?seq=3
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1166503?seq=4

Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman (eds.) After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009) is an excellent collection of essays on reconciliation politics in Rwanda

Wendy Whitworth, ed. We Survived Genocide in Rwanda: 28 Personal Testimonies (Notinghamshire, UK: Quill Press/Aegis, 2006)

Eugena Zorbas, “Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda” African Journal of Legal Studies (2004) AJLS 29-52, http://www.africalawinstitute.org/ajls/vol1/no1/zorbas.pdf

TRIBUTE TO COURAGE by Rakiya Omaar of African Rights on those Hutus (and others) who protected Tutsis. “These stories of bravery in the face of huge personal danger re-ignite the appalled emotions felt at the time of the genocide.” (There are stories of 17 rescuers summarized on this weblog.)

Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Cambridge, MA: DelCapo, 2003

Samuel and Pearl Oliner, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (New York: Free Press, 1988) documents the attitudes and activities of rescuers during the Holocaust still relevant to readers who attempt to understand the motivation of ordinary people who courageously risked their lives in order to save others.