Kwibuka23: Conserving remains of Genocide victims for posterity

Twenty-three years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, efforts are still underway to ensure that not only those killed the Genocide are interred in a decent place, but also to help keep the memory alive.
Clothes of some of the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi inside Nyamata Genocide memorial, former Catholic church. (Sam Ngendahimana)
Clothes of some of the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi inside Nyamata Genocide memorial, former Catholic church. (Sam Ngendahimana)

Twenty-three years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, efforts are still underway to ensure that not only those killed the Genocide are interred in a decent place, but also to help keep the memory alive.

These efforts are being undertaken through rehabilitation of the different Genocide memorial sites in the country, but also have them properly managed.

As the country continues to commemorate for the 23rd time the Genocide against the Tutsi, officials have reasserted the need to work harder in the preservation of the memory of victims for posterity.

The country has been undertaking major projects in preservation of Genocide memorials, including efforts to have some listed as world heritage sites under UNESCO.

Bugesera District is one of the regions that were greatly devastated by the Genocide and it counts two memorials – Ntarama and Nyamata – as national sites while three others; Ruhuha, Musenyi and Gashora are under the management of the district.

Owing to its unique history, Bugesera is the only district with five memorials,  whereas, for most, efforts are being made to harmonise them to ensure districts have at least one memorial to ease management and help survivors mourn their loved ones in one place.

But even with these memorials in Bugesera, more remains continue to be unearthed and there is still need for room for a befitting final resting place for the innocent victims of the Genocide.

For instance, Nyamata Memorial Site, a former Catholic Church that already hosts close to 45,000 remains of Genocide victims, has been undergoing expansion not only for preservation purposes but also to provide more space to inter other remains to be recovered in the future.

“From the church, 10,000 people who had sought refuge here were killed, but so far, 45,000 people are interred here as most remains were collected from other places within Nyamata sector,” said a guide at the memorial site.

The guide works for the National Commission for the fight against Genocide (CNLG).

She said ongoing rehabilitation being carried out by the commission seeks first to fix the issue of flowing water which generates too much humidity in mass graves.

“The water channeling is being addressed to make sure water does not penetrate and cause moisture of the soil which would then affect the remains,” the person said.

Because the site is designated among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the commission has been carrying out other expansion activities to include staff offices and works are expected to be completed soon.

In the same quest, Nyamata memorial was used as a pilot project where some items like clothes and other belongings of victims and some of the weapons used in the mass killings are being treated to remain in their original state for several years.

The exercise, which started earlier this year, is expected to be eventually extended to other memorials across the country and has been funded by the US embassy in Kigali to the tune of Rwf72 million (for phase 1).

According to the director of research and documentation at CNLG, Dr Jean Damascene Gasanabo, the support was given through the US ambassador’s fund for cultural preservation and was meant to help train staff at the memorial site who would later train others.

“It is work in progress and,  so far, we have done 25 per cent of the work, after Nyamata we are looking forward to do the same in other memorial sites like Nyarubuye, Murambi and others,” he said in a recent interview.

The process, that is done with use of machines starts by removing thick outer layer of clothes which is mostly mixed with dust, mud or blood before they are vacuumed into a dryer and dipped in other chemicals that can help them remain in the same state for up to 60 years.

Gasanabo added that the conservation project also seeks to ensure other artifacts like bibles, chaplets, calabashes, and other items as well as the weapons used during Genocide like machetes, clubs, hoes and other materials, are all kept in their original shape.

Bazirisa Mukamana who coordinates CNLG activities in both Kicukiro and Nyamata districts, told The New Times that training was larlely given to guides at the memorial with the help of American experts and these will help spread the expertise to other memorials.

UNESCO heritage sites

The government, through CNLG, has lined up four Genocide memorials for designation as UNESCO heritage sites under the World Heritage Centre.

Speaking to The New Times, Dr Diogene Bideri, a senior research consultant at CNLG, revealed that the process of having the sites listed has reached 90 per cent.

“It is an ongoing process and we have to make sure that we comply with the requirements given before those sites are officially recorded as UNESCO world heritage sites,” he said.

He said some of the requirements involved include; thae sites must have outstanding social values, well protected, conserved (not at risks of natural disaster) and managed efficiently.

“We were also requested to ensure integrity and authenticity of the sites, records of the memorial sites, photos and other data,” Dr Bideri added.

Once all work has been completed, the commission is supposed to compile a report, which will be reviewed by the UNESCO office in Paris before final adoption ahead of 2018.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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