Once a group is committed to genocide it cannot be otherwise. To get away with atrocity one has to bond the killers together through complicity – either everyone must be a killer or a killer by implication, or a victim. As the slaughter happens not only are you killing the victims, but you are either implicating or killing all witnesses. If you do the job well enough you create silence: your own silence and your brother’s silence and silence brings impunity. Or so the planners of the Rwandan genocide thought. For how else did they think they would get away with killing every Tutsi in Rwanda? They relied on the silence of the people in Rwanda and they relied on the silence of the West. From the reports they were getting during the genocide from their representative in the United Nation’s Security Council they had no reason to overestimate that august institute or the governments that ran it.
The enormity and audacity of the plan was stunning.
I made two trips to Rwanda. The first was ten years after the genocide ended and again in 2009.
I distinctly remember the day the genocide began. It was my birthday - one of the big birthdays - and as I planned the celebration I remember standing in front of my TV watching the horror coming out of Rwanda. It was difficult to meld the two.
The pictures and the stories stayed with me until in 2004 I travelled to Rwanda to try to understand how the Rwandan genocide happened. During that trip, and the one five years later, I interviewed killers, survivors and those who helped survivors, and I leant two things. Given the right conditions genocide could happen in any country and if it wasn’t for some Hutu every Tutsi in Rwanda would probably have died. It’s taken a long time for the world to accept that not all Hutu were killers.
You might argue that the Hutu who saved Tutsi did no more than any decent human being would do, but after spending time in the Rwandan countryside, and seeing how seemingly impossible it would have been to hide someone in your tiny home for up to 3 months without anyone in the village knowing they were there, I am astounded anyone took that chance. Not only did Hutu refuse to kill – and there was huge pressure to participate – they went beyond that. They defied the killers and in doing so put their own lives and those of their family in extreme danger, a danger that only increased as the time moved on for when those who had become addicted to the blood lust could find no more Tutsi to slaughter they turned on their own.
On the second trip I wanted to understand what motivated these Hutu to rise above the fear and mayhem. The answer I always got was simple: it was wrong.
I came away from Rwanda asking myself if I would have been so brave. I still don’t know the answer to that. I hope I would, but the sheer terror of the slaughter in close proximity would have tested the very best of us. Those who rose above the ordinary should be acknowledged. Below are the photos of some of the Hutu I met who risked their lives, and sometimes the lives of their family members, to save Tutsi who were often strangers to them. They are extraordinary people.