Rwandan’s genocide survivors tormented by horrors 25 years on

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French President Emmanuel Macron (3rd L) meets French representatives of the Ibuka association for the memory of Rwanda's genocide, two days ahead of the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris on April 5, 2019. (AFP)
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Visitors are seen outside the Genocide Memorial in Gisozi within Kigali, Rwanda April 3, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Flowers are laid on top of a glass case containing the skulls of some of those who were slaughtered as they sought refuge in the church, kept as a memorial to the thousands who were killed in and around the Catholic church during the 1994 genocide, inside the church in Ntarama, Rwanda Friday, April 5, 2019. (AP)
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In this Dec. 19, 1996, file photo, tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees, who have been forced by the Tanzanian authorities to return to their country despite fears they will be killed upon their return, stream back towards the Rwandan border on a road in Tanzania. (AP)
Updated 07 April 2019
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Rwandan’s genocide survivors tormented by horrors 25 years on

  • Seventy percent of the Tutsi population was wiped out, and over 10 percent of the total Rwandan population
  • Hutus extremists released AIDS patients from hospitals in order to form “rape squads” to infect Tutsi women

KAMONYI, Rwanda: Edith, a 51-year-old housewife, finds it difficult to listen to the radio or watch television in April, the month marking Rwanda’s annual reminder of its 1994 genocide.
Songs and programs broadcast in the east African nation remember the 800,000 people brutally slaughtered over a 100 day period — but also share the pain of those who survived.
“My four brothers and sister were killed during the genocide. This commemoration is important and we must remember them,” Edith — not her real name — told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her village in Rwanda’s southern Kamonyi district.
“But when I hear the songs or poems on radio, I get flashbacks of hiding in the forest and of how the men from the militia came with their machetes and found me. I remember how they took turns to rape me — and how they impregnated me.”
As Rwanda commemorates 25 years since the genocide ended, thousands of survivors still live in torment, haunted by memories of when extremist Hutus went on the rampage, slaughtering over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
“What they experienced was so totally barbaric that even now we find many are reporting symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” said Yvonne Kayiteshonga, Mental Health Division Manager at the Ministry of Health.
“This manifests itself in different ways such as lack of sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, depression or anti-social behavior where they are withdrawn and do not want to be with others. Some survivors also resort to drugs or alcoholism.”
Kayiteshonga said preliminary results of a 2018 national survey found 35 percent of survivors aged between 25 and 65 years reported symptoms linked to mental health problems.

NEIGHBOUR TURNED ON NEIGHBOUR
The genocide began on the night of April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying then Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi — both Hutus — was shot down.
The attack sparked a rampage by Hutu government soldiers and allied extremist militia with the aim of exterminating the Tutsi minority whom they blamed for killing Habyarimana.
In villages and towns across the densely populated country, neighbor turned on neighbor as people were hacked to death, burned alive, clubbed and shot.
As many as 10,000 people were killed daily. Seventy percent of the Tutsi population was wiped out, and over 10 percent of the total Rwandan population.
Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war with up to 250,000 women and girls raped, resulting in thousands of births.
Hutus extremists also released AIDS patients from hospitals in order to form “rape squads” to infect Tutsi women, and thousands of survivors and their children born from rape are now infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
The fighting ended in July 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel movement that swept in from Uganda, marched on Kigali and seized control of the country.
“After the genocide, attention was focused on basic needs such as providing survivors with food, water and housing as they had lost everything — no one paid attention to the trauma,” said Sam Munderere from the Survivors Fund (SURF) which provides counselling to women and their children born from rape.
“And of course, the longer mental health problems are ignored, the more traumatized survivors have become over the years.”
MORE COUNSELLING REQUIRED
Munderere said he met women who had been so violently raped that they felt physically sick when another man approached them.
While other women, who had given birth after being raped, could not accept their children, and mistreated or left them.
In the lush, hilly villages of Kamonyi district, just outside of Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Edith recounted how she withdrew into herself and would stay alone in her room for days after the genocide was over and she discovered she was pregnant.
“I was scared to tell anyone and wanted to have an abortion, or even kill myself, but eventually I confided in a friend and she told me that God had saved me for a reason,” she said.
“Even then, after my daughter was born, it was hard to accept until the people from SURF came and brought me together with other women like me. We had counselling sessions where we just all spoke about experiences and cried and cried.”
Mental health experts said even children born out of rape were in desperate need of counselling as many were unable to accept how they were conceived and felt ashamed of their past.
Edith’s daughter Diane, 24, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she struggled when asked about her father.
“When I was growing up I used to wonder about my father, but my mother would not tell me. Now I understand why,” said Diane, not her real name, adding that she used to hate her mother for hiding the truth.
“It was only when I went to a youth camp organized by SURF last year where there were other young people like me that I realized I was not alone. It is important to find people you can trust to talk to or you will become depressed.”
Government officials admitted mental health support was lacking in Rwanda and needed to strengthen for survivors.
They said last year’s survey would help authorities to formulate a policy on improving mental health treatment for survivors, but also much needed to be done to raise awareness as mental health issues still carried social stigma.
“We have trained staff in many health centers across the country to deal with trauma, but we are still lacking counselling services in many places,” said Kayiteshonga.
“We also need to be more aggressive in raising awareness about the issue. There is still a lack of knowledge about PTSD and there is a lot of stigma in the community.”


Greta Thunberg to Congress: ‘Don’t listen to me. Listen to the scientists’

Updated 1 min 14 sec ago

Greta Thunberg to Congress: ‘Don’t listen to me. Listen to the scientists’

  • Thunberg was invited to a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
  • She has been in Washington since last week to join US and indigenous activists to build up support for a global climate strike on Friday and pressure lawmakers to take action on climate change

WASHINGTON: Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has inspired a global movement for climate change, delivered a pointed message before a US congressional hearing on Wednesday: “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.”
The 16-year-old founder of the “Fridays For Future” weekly school walkouts to demand government climate-change action submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the hearing in lieu of testimony. It urged rapid, unprecedented changes to the way people live in order to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by 2030.
“People in general don’t seem to be aware of how severe the crisis” is, Thunberg said, urging lawmakers to “unite behind the science” and take action, pleading that people treat climate change “like the existential crisis it is.”
Thunberg was one of four students invited to a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, to provide the next generation’s views on climate change.
She has been in Washington since last week to join US and indigenous activists to build up support for a global climate strike on Friday and pressure lawmakers to take action on climate change.
Her first appearance took place in front of the White House on Friday, where she encouraged fellow young activists to keep fighting to be heard. She did not mention US President Donald Trump, a climate change denier who moved to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement early in his tenure, in her remarks.
On Wednesday, Trump announced he plans to revoke California’s ability to set its own more stringent emissions standards for vehicles — the latest move in his administration’s multipronged attack on the state’s efforts to reduce vehicle emissions that could slow the deployment of electric and more efficient vehicles.
At the hearing on Wednesday was also 21-year-old conservative climate-change advocate Benji Backer from Wisconsin. He told lawmakers that young conservatives also favor climate change action, but through an approach focused on technology and allowing the continued use of fossil fuels. “As a proud American, as a life-long conservative and as a young person, I urge you to accept climate change for the reality it is and respond accordingly. We need your leadership,” he said.
While he praised Thunberg and other climate activists for putting the issue at the forefront of politics, he said there was time to take more measured action.
In addition to meetings on Capitol Hill, Thunberg met former President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Obama described the teenager on Twitter as “already one of the planet’s greatest advocates.”
Later on Wednesday, she joined seven young Americans who have sued the US government for failing to take action on climate change on the steps of the Supreme Court. They urged political leaders and lawmakers to support their legal fight and take action to phase out the use of fossil fuels.
At the panel, Republican representatives praised the students for raising awareness about climate change but disagreed over what action the US should take.
Representative Garret Graves from Louisiana, said his state was affected by rising sea levels and that he supported the US emission reduction target enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement, but he criticized the pact for allowing emerging economies like China to continue to emit greenhouse gases.
“I think that signing on to an agreement...that allows for China to have a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030 is inappropriate,” he said.
Thunberg responded that in her home country, Sweden, people similarly criticize the United States for not taking enough action.
Another activist on the panel, 17-year-old Jamie Margolin from Seattle, called out lawmakers for taking too long to enact climate change policies.
“The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today pleading for a livable earth should not fill you with pride; it should fill you with shame,” she said.
Thunberg and the youth leaders also met with Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Thunberg is expected to make a speech on Wednesday evening in the House.