Twenty-one years after the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda, citizens of the tiny East African country are divided over how to preserve the victims’ remains.
Some believe that the remains must be kept as they are, in an ongoing memorial to the 1994 tragedy.
In addition, the Rwandan government and many victims’ families also feel that burying the bones would wipe out some of the proof that genocide took place in the country.
This is because, there are fears that such burials would help the cause of those who seek to promote genocide denial while minimizing the impact of the massacres.
“To make these bones disappear would simply mean killing off the memory of the Tutsi genocide,” says Julienne Uwacu, the minister of Sports and Culture who is also charge of preserving the memorial sites.
Adds Jean Damascene Bizimana, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), “The Nazi genocide of the Jews was immortalized by abundant works of literature, cinema and various other art forms. We, on the other hand, don’t have much except the victims’ remains.”
These words are echoed by Steven Mudingu, a Rwandan who fled to Uganda before returning from exile in 1996.
“For those who did not experience the genocide, we have to say that these sites are the only thing which allows us to be somewhat less abstract about it, to have a more or less concrete idea of what it was,” Mudingu says.
Still, others claim that burying the bones would be a step towards helping the country overcome the genocide.
“These sites will always be there to remind us, our children and our grandchildren that ‘You vile Hutus, this is what you did to the Tutsis’,” says Francis Mutemberezi, who was charged with genocide, and released on bail in 2004.
For the sake of national reconciliation, Mutemberezi thinks the bones should be buried in order to “put the genocide behind us.”
More than 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by Hutu militants in 1994. The killing spree began after a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over the Rwandan capital, Kigali, by suspected Hutu extremists.
The remains of genocide victims are scattered in many sites and genocide memorials across the tiny East African nation. Certain massacres occurred in churches, which continue to display the decomposed bodies. In other instances, skulls, tibias ? even whole skeletons ? are laid out in rows, in buildings where killings occurred.
In the Catholic church of Ntarama some 40 kilometers east of Kigali, bodies are arranged between benches ? still clothed in the garments they wore at the time of the massacre.
A large hole dug in one of the walls of the building tells the story of how the killers were able to get in. Plates with traces of food suggest that the murders took place in the middle of a meal.
The Catholic church, has been the scene of a massacre. One of the skeletons in its basement bears signs of sexual assault: three large pieces of wood stick out from the pelvis, between the two tucked-in thighbones.
“The girl tried to resist a group of rapists. After having overpowered her and probably raped her, they stuck these pieces of wood in her vagina for all eternity,” explains a guide at the site. Enditem