New York, USA – On April 7th, 2010, students, activists, NGO and governmental workers, UN agencies, and survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, joined together in Manhattan for the annual commemoration of the genocide that took place sixteen years earlier.
On that evening, two simultaneous events were being held, one at the ECOSOC Chamber, which was organized by the United Nations and the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations and another one at the UN Church Centre organized by Rwandan Genocide survivors living in the New York/New Jersey area.
At the UN Church Centre, across the UN Plaza, survivors living in the New York/New Jersey area had organized a commemoration as well as discussing themes pertinent to their lives in the Diaspora and the welfare of survivors in general. The Rwandan Diaspora community, members of organizations operating in Rwanda and other community friends of Rwanda attended the UN Church Centre commemoration.
The key note speaker, Mr. Edouard Kayihura, who sought refuge at the Hotel Des Mille Collines, depicted in the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’, shared his experiences. In his address, he questioned the heroic actions of the main character in the movie, Paul Rusesabagina, suggesting that the real story is far different from the movie itself.
Ms. Yvette Rugasaguhunga also joined her community of survivors at the UN Church Centre and performed “A Survivor’s State of Mind,” a monologue she wrote to “recount the horrors of Genocide, and to depict the pains of survivors in their struggles to seek justice and embrace forgiveness, reconciliation and recovery from the traumatic experiences.
She described the horrendous killings in the churches of Cyahinda, Nyamata, Ntarama, Nyarubuye, Nyange and St. Famille. “This is the beginning of 100 horrific days of my life.
I silently scream but all of you, except the Rwandan Patriotic Front, chose to be bystanders and watch Hutu extremists at “work” like the forces of a Tsunami,” she said.
The evening was also marked by performances by saxophonist Jeremy Danneman who played songs he had composed after a recent visit to Rwanda, and guitarist Morley Kamen, who sang “Women of Hope”, a song she had written using transcriptions from CNN’s coverage of Gacaca proceedings in Rwanda.
In his remarks, Mr. Alfred Ndabarasa, a delegate from the Rwandan Permanent Mission to the United Nations, commended the organizers and expressed the need for all stakeholders to continue to work together to support Genocide survivors.
On this solemn occasion of remembrance, the Genocide survivors of NY and NJ honoured the work of two outstanding individuals; Jacqueline Murekatete for her dedication to raise awareness of the Genocide and her commitment to youth education through her organization, Jacqueline Human Rights Corner.
The second honouree was Taylor Krauss for founding the Voices of Rwanda to preserve the testimonies of survivors in Rwanda and abroad.
In closing the remembrance ceremony, Claire Umubyeyi read a poem “Light Me a Candle” written by Mr. David Mwambari, after which survivors lit candles in memory of their own families.
In solidarity with survivors, the audience joined in to light a candle in a pledge to honour the memory of the victims of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.
Eugenie Mukeshimana, the coordinator of the event, concluded by expressing the dire need to preserve the history of the Genocide.
She expressed concerns over lack of written documents such as diaries due to the culture of oral tradition that has marked Rwanda for generations.
She also spoke about the difficult burden of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda today as survivors are reminded on a daily basis about their painful losses and trauma.
The organizers of the commemoration event at the UN Church Centre also issued a Press-release with the following message: “We remember and celebrate loved ones, friends and families whose lives were prematurely taken and remain cherished in our hearts forever.
As survivors, we have experienced first-hand the horrors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and work together towards healing the painful wounds of this tragedy.
Most importantly, we make it our priority to call for a special attention to the welfare of vulnerable survivors, as the majority of them continue to live in dire conditions, with limited means to deal with poverty, illness, social isolation, trauma, and threats from perpetrators.”