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Somewhere on the Planet: Remembering Rwanda – 15 Years Later, Violence Goes on in the DRC

What happened in Rwanda in 1994 cannot and should not be forgotten. Fifteen years later, the country has found relative peace, but not much is being reported on the violence that spilled over from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo and continues, to this day, to take the lives of countless civilians. Ross Hollister, a young volunteer in the DRC, sent us his thoughts on the 15th anniversary of the day that was to spark off the Rwandan genocide.

Goma, DRC—April 6, 2009. It’s 8:00 pm here in Eastern Congo and as the clock ticks rhythmically above me, I am reminded of an event which took place about 3 hours away in Rwanda exactly 15 years ago, at almost at this precise time. It was April 6, 1994 and Rwandan President Habyarimana was flying into Kigali International Airport, accompanied by the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, several ministers and a French crew. As the plane descended for landing, someone fired a rocket from below, which detonated against the aircraft, killing everyone on board. The assassination sparked what we know as the Rwandan genocide, an event that led to the death of more than 800,000 Rwandan Tutsi and sympathetic Hutu in the span of 100 days.

Remembering a tragedy

On this somber anniversary, Rwanda is preparing to commemorate the tragedy with a week of remembrance. Throughout the country, shops will close at 12pm for next week, survivors will give their testimony and pray for lost loved ones, and many will rebury family members found in mass graves. In a more visceral reminder of the atrocity, Rwandan television will air videos from that time.

The genocide can be difficult to write about, especially as an outsider who was only 9 years old during the event. But what I can describe is the difference one notes between the accounts of horror written in history books after 1994, and the Rwanda of today, which in many ways could not be more peaceful and harmonious. In fact, living here in the DRC, Rwanda is often seen as a relative paradise, with its immaculate streets, excellent security and thriving economic sector.

This difference really comes through when, on the weekends, I cross into the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi. One moment you’re picking your way through the trash and boulder-strewn streets of Goma, trying to avoid getting caught on the coils of razor wire strung along the street, and the next you’re walking along a smooth paved road beneath sprawling shade trees, admiring the cozy hotels tucked along the shores of Lake Kivu. Such is the difference between the two countries, and while a horrible atrocity took place in Rwanda 15 years ago, it is important to also remember that atrocities are taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo to this very day. The Rwandan "genocidaires" of 1994 did not just vanish after their killing spree. They fled to the Congo.

"Internally Displace Persons"

And it is here, in the provinces of North and South Kivu, where they have reformed into an armed group called the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda. The FDLR was the target of a Rwandan incursion into the DRC last month, and has responded to the attacks by killing even more civilians in the rural areas, forcing an exodus of entire villages from the countryside. These villagers are now filling up the displaced people camps here just outside of Goma. In visiting two of the major camps recently (Mugunga 1 & 2), I remarked on the presence of five large UNHCR trucks, and was told they are relocating displaced people to ease overcrowding within the camps, a sure sign conditions in the countryside are still too dangerous to return…

Further reading on this Web site:

- Kigali, 1997, a Platform for Peace in the Great Lakes Region

This document reports on the initiative undertaken to establish a climate of peace and long-term serenity in the Great Lakes region that was witness to such murderous activity in the recent past.

The meeting aimed to encourage the development of a Platform for Peace in the Great Lakes region: it assembled about one hundred young persons, women, journalists, Human Rights organizations, and members of parliament of the region. There were moments of sharing, of celebration, and of emotions among participants during the debates and outside of the meeting: organization, at the opening of the meeting, of the first artistic event since the 1994 genocide; powerful testimonies and private accounts from the survivors of the genocide; a visit to N'Tarama, where thousands were slaughtered in a church, now turned into a memorial of the genocide. Better than any text, they are a reflection of the raison d'être and the vision of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World.

- The Fabric of Rwandan Organizations

- In French: Femmes du Rwanda

- In French: La diffusion des travaux du tribunal pénal international pour le Rwanda d’Arusha par l’Internet : une manière efficace de faire connaître la justice


Ross Hollister
A recent graduate of Oberlin College in the (...)
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