Last month, I was fortunate to be part of a delegation in support of the private filmmakers' screening of "The Uncondemned" documentary in Kigali, Rwanda including the opportunity to meet the incredible women who made the case possible: witnesses JJ, NN, and OO, and Godelieve Mukasarasi, Chairwoman of the SEVOTA Association. The trip included genocide memorial site visits and opportunities to be further informed about the atrocities that took place during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
In 1997, a mismatched group of underdog lawyers went after rape as an international war crime for the first time. The film recounts their fight for the first conviction and follows the story of the heroic Rwandan women who risked a wave of witness assassinations to testify. The documentary is directed by former investigative correspondent to Bill Moyers (PBS) and political anchor at CNN, Michele Mitchell, and co-director, Nick Louvel.
Rape continues to be used as a tactic of war in conflicts around the world and the perpetrators of this violence are not being held accountable. "The Uncondemned" is inspirational and educational in addressing these challenges - it underscores the value of "seeing is believing" as we tackle our humanitarian and social justice issues.
I invite you to read more about my trip, highlights from a robust itinerary, and personal reflections about the impact of genocide on society.
Wars, conflict, and persecution have forced more people than at any other time to flee their homes, seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to a new report from the UN refugee agency. UNHCR's annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released on June 18, reported that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. The number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.
When the genocide in Rwanda ended in 1994, 800,000 people had been murdered – 300,000 of these victims were children. In addition, 95,000 children had been orphaned. Thousands of children were victims of brutality and rape, and thousands of children – some as young as seven – were coerced into military operations and forced to commit violent acts against their will.
The lingering trauma of the 1994 genocide still leaves many women and youth with little hope for a prosperous future and rebuilding models can take years to restore communities and economies.
Ntarama and Nyamata Genocide Memorial Sites
Leading up to the screening, we visited two churches 25-30 km south of Kigali that are evidence to some of the most brutal killings during the 1994 genocide. These churches are two of the most moving memorials, having on display the bones, skulls and bloodied rags of those brutally murdered. During the genocide, the Tutsis (persecuted minority of the population), sought sanctuary in the Catholic churches in the hopes that they would be a safe haven. People smuggled food and other essentials into the churches. It is thought that some of the clergy informed the Hutus of the secret mass of Tutsis that had taken refuge in the churches. Ultimately, the Hutus stormed the churches and massacred all the people.
At Nyamata, the Nyamata Parish Catholic Church is the larger church. Here, grenades, rockets and automatic weapons were all used to massacre the people imprisoned inside the church. It is believed that 10,000 were killed inside the church with a further 35,000 killed around the church compound in April of 1994. The church houses the bloodied clothing of the victims piled up on the benches. A set of stairs leads down to a crypt where a shelf of skulls lie above a coffin of a woman who was repeatedly raped. The walls of the church show where the grenades blew holes in the walls, doors and windows were blown open.
Next to the church is a large underground crypt. It is filled with thousands of skulls, femurs, and other bones belonging to the 55,000 people that were brutally murdered. There are crude, wooden coffins filled with bones of whole families, neatly stacked and all draped in purple covers.
Ntarama is a small church and school where about 5,000 people, many of whom were women and children, were massacred. People hiding in the separate kitchen building were burned to death. The children were taken into the one room school and killed by smashing their skulls against a wall. There is a blood-stained wall where these massacres were carried out. The blood-stained clothes of the dead are draped over the church pews and the instruments used in the executions are grouped at the front of the church. At the rear of the church are all the skulls, other bones of the victims, pots and pans demonstrating community life.
Private Filmmakers' Screening of "The Uncondemned" – June 17
At 11 p.m. on the night before the screening, Michele summoned the core members of her team to advise us that not only had President Kagame agreed to attend the screening, but the entire logistics and location were also to be changed.
"The Uncondemned" is a feature-length documentary that traces the legal chase to a historic verdict—which included the first-ever conviction for genocide and for rape as a form of genocide. Shot in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Netherlands, and the U.S., the film includes interviews with the first women to testify about rape as a war crime, as well as the genocidaires-turned-militia that committed the crimes. It has been a crime of war since 1919, but was not prosecuted until 1997, when a group of young prosecutors, activists and investigators went after that first conviction. Thanks to the extraordinary courage of the women of rural Rwanda, Witnesses JJ, NN, and OO, and their fearless leader Godelieve Mukasarasi, they changed history and formed a community to empower women and improve livelihoods.
More than 300 representatives from the government, private and civil society sectors attended the screening including his Excellency President Kagame, her Excellency, the First Lady, Jeanette Kagame and Ms. Barks-Ruggles, the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Rwanda. The documentary and its critical story was well received and publicized locally and internationally.
Post-screening - A Visit to SEVOTA
After the screening, we visited the ladies in Taba (home of the convicted Jean-Paul Akayesu) and were greeted by celebration, dance, and presentations made by the Deputy Mayor and principals. We were then each handed a gift with a hand-written card of thanks and appreciation.
SEVOTA is a Rwandan organization that hosts forums for women who became pregnant because of rape during the genocide. The organization’s mission: Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods.
Lessons to be Learned
Surely, the consequences of genocide are suffered not only by the targeted society, but also by humanity at large. Genocide has devastating consequences at all levels of society and a society cannot rebuild or manage its development in isolation. It must include participation from the solidarity of other people and survivors who have suffered similar experiences in other communities around the world.
Rwanda, now considered one of the safest countries in Africa, is a model for future learning as a society that underwent genocide and post-conflict resolution. To that end, Rwandan survivors' associations are advancing by establishing relationships with other survivors, creating organizations to learn from their experiences, and building resilient communities for women and orphaned children, including the provision of basic needs, health services, and education. However, this level of work and advocacy has to be further advanced to help mitigate and prevent further acts of crimes against humanity.
We all need to think critically and understand what human beings are capable of, especially in the context of war and genocide. As such, we must cultivate transparency and open dialogue about common problems such as intolerance, bullying, domestic violence, rape, prejudice, hatred, abuse, gender inequality, and more. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to learn from these lessons.
By Sam Taylor, Founder of Reputation Dynamics.
"The Uncondemned" is currently in post-production and we welcome exploring opportunities to support this critical documentary including sponsorship, hosting educational screenings, and/or alignment with SEVOTA Association's mission to help widows and orphans to promote self-sufficiency and livelihoods. "The Uncondemned" is a 501c3 through fiscal sponsor, Filmmakers Collaborative. We invite you to review the trailer: www.filmat11.tv/theuncondemned.
About SEVOTA: A Rwandan organization that hosts forums for women who became pregnant because of rape during the genocide. Website: www.sevota.org
Featured Article: http://af.reuters.com/article/rwandaNews/idAFL5N0YQ2X620150616
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