Laid to rest in dignity

Many survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi are yet to find remains of their relatives so as to accord them descent burials. Only when they do so will they find closure to the horrible events 15 years ago.
Pall-bearers leading a burial procession. File photo
Pall-bearers leading a burial procession. File photo

Many survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi are yet to find remains of their relatives so as to accord them descent burials. Only when they do so will they find closure to the horrible events 15 years ago.

Remains of many genocide victims have been exhumed and re-buried in dignity. Examples of the places where remains are exhumed include: pit latrines, trenches, gardens, pits which were dug up during the Genocide to bury many people alive, to mention but a few.

At the end of a week to mark the 15th Genocide commemoration, which was held in April, Alvas Okech, from a neighboring country asked me a challenging question, “Tell me, what it means to exhume and rebury the remains of the genocide victims? Does it mean that bones buried this year will be exhumed next year and reburied?”

The question took me by surprise. But I later understood his curiosity and explained what exhuming and reburying of remains of genocide victims means.

To a Rwandan, Oketch’s question may be taken as injustice to the nationals, but he did not intend that. Like any other person, it would be hard to imagine that every year, in one country, thousands of people are reburied, above all, victims of the Genocide.

The massacre of such numbers estimated at a million people in 100 days remains unimaginable.

Derrick Orachi, another foreigner confesses, “I thought Genocide victims’ bones are exhumed and reburied after carrying out ritual practices. We have always seen people in Uganda exhuming bodies after performing rituals because spirits of the dead would come to haunt the community. They believe that the dead have to be appeased and accept the reburial.”

Orachi points out that he does not believe in rituals, but when he talks to people who carry it out, they convince him that people who don’t carry out rituals go mad.

He asserts that it is psychological problem, trauma not madness.

“I think Ugandans have refused reburial of Genocide victims in Uganda because Rwandese do not carry out ritual practices either.”

Adding that, even Ugandan politicians believe in rituals. He explained that in the Northern part of Uganda, they exhume and rebury victims of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) killings, but they do it after carrying out rituals.

Modesta Mulinda a genocide survivor and a teacher by profession says that although remains of some victims of the Genocide have not been found, through Gacaca courts many Genocide perpetrators revealed where the bodies or parts of the genocide victims were buried or thrown during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

“Some perpetrators are not genuine, they don’t tell the truth about what they know. And some show wrong places saying it is where they were buried yet they are the ones who can reveal exact places to find remains of the victims,” Mulinda explained.

He asserts that if Gacaca ends without finding the remains, they have no hope of ever finding them. He adds that genocide survivors who have not found their relative’ remains are the ones still traumatised. He cited an example of a girl who had stopped talking for over ten years but talked after discovering her father’s remains.

Relatives and friends to the victims of the 1994 Genocide are always longing to give respectable burial to their beloved ones.

Those who have not found their people have continued to have mental trauma, which is a nightmare to many.

To have victims of the genocide exhumed from wherever they were buried during the Genocide, takes everyone’s intervention, but more especially the Genocide perpetrators since they are the ones who best know where these remains were buried.  

Senator on Political and Good Governance Standing Committee, Alvera Mukabaramba says: “It is unfortunate, there are people who have not found remains of their relatives for reburial. This leaves them more traumatised than those who have reburied theirs”.

She asserts that even after ending Gacaca courts, efforts to find remains of Genocide victims will continue under the National Commission for the fight Against Genocide (CNLG); and although not all the victims of the Genocide may ever be discovered, with time many more will be.

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