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Book Review: A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld

A Time for Machetes - The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld Following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 which claimed the lives of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Jean Hatzfeld visited Rwanda and spoke to the survivors of the atrocities. Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak is a harrowing read which tells in the survivors’ own words the horrors of the genocide including surviving massacres in churches, hiding under dead bodies or spending days hiding in swamps as their former friends and neighbours scoured the area with machetes seeking to kill them.  You can read my detailed account of the book here: On Rwanda: my passion and the need to know.

In A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak , Hatzfeld returns to Rwanda and this time he speaks to the perpetrators of the genocide: ten men who are serving time in a  prison for their part in the genocide.  As a prolific reader of books relating to the Rwandan genocide, my expectations on picking up this book were quite specific.  What the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide did was unthinkable, it defied words and stretched the bounds of the human imagination.  I hoped to gain some insight into what the killers had been thinking, what had motivated them and how they justified their own actions.  I expected to read that the men had been caught up in the frenzy and organisation of the time and that they were somewhat horrified by their actions today.  I expected the passage of time and life in prison to have inspired a remorseful attitude and an appreciation of the human cost and loss of life resulting from their actions.  I was disappointed.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent book and I have no hesitation giving it five stars and recommending that people read it.  Hatzfeld’s brave and tireless enquiry has given us an extremely rare insight into the mind of a genocidal killer.  The questions that he asks, the commentary and background information that he provides and the process he undergoes to gain the killers’ trust provides an invaluable resource that we simply have not had with other genocides.  In the end though, it seems that my expectation of remorse and reconciliation was beyond naive.

The chapters in the book detail the level of organisation of the killings including how gang members were initiated and how they were instructed on how to kill.  There are descriptions of how men were punished or not rewarded if they failed to kill and how there were called upon and dispatched each morning and fed and rewarded each evening.  The respondents discuss how they overcame initial hesitation with respect to the killings, how they began to dehumanise Tutsis in order to kill them and how they felt about rape and looting. 

“We no longer saw a human being when we turned up a Tutsi in the swamps.  I mean a person like us, sharing similar thoughts and feelings” - Pio

Danielle Nyirabazungu - memorial site guardian
Danielle Nyirabazungu - memorial site guardian

Throughout reading the book, there is the continual and nagging feeling that something is missing.  In a sense, it is the complete lack of sincerity, humanity or accountability.  One killer speaks of how he magnanimously spared the life of a woman only to kill her days later once her usefulness had run its course.  The killers display an incredible sense of entitlement and a refusal to even hint or acknowledge of how wrong their actions were.  They simply feel no remorse and even manage to express anger and impatience at their victims.  If only they could get on with it and forgive them, then the killers could get their own lives back!

“I believe the consequences have been most unfortunate for us all.  The others have gathered in many dead.  But we, too, have met with perilous hardships in the camps and a wretched life in prison” – Fulgence

It is possible that this sense of brazen remorselessness has to do with way in which the questions were asked of the killers or the manner in which they were reported however, Hatzfeld had specifically set out to give the killers a voice, to put the inconceivable into words, so I would be less likely to believe that it is deliberate bias.  It is likely that much has been lost in translation between the original Kinyarwandan to French to English.  The fact remains that much of the text in the book is reported in the killers’ own words and that the ten respondents were part of an original gang that managed to stay together during their time in prison.  Quite simply, it is most likely that they simply did not feel remorse or the full impact of their actions as the genocidal discourse had remained intact during their time in prison and nothing had been done to separate the men or break down these beliefs.  Mention is made in the closing chapter of the books of the men being sent to a re-education camp at Bicumbi before the majority of them were released back into the community in May 2003 but the interviews in the book took place before this occurred.  Hatzfeld's final book in this trilogy, The Strategy Of Antelopes: Rwanda After the Genocide picks up where the killers have been released into the community and details their difficulty in settling back down in the communities and how their Tutsi neighbours must tolerate them.

Jean Hatzfeld
Jean Hatzfeld

I would certainly recommend this book but I would certainly not recommend that this be the only book that you read on the Rwandan genocide.  These are the top books that I would recommend on the Rwandan genocide (click on the links to go straight to Amazon.co.uk):

  1. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza
  2. An Ordinary Man: The True Story Behind Hotel Rwanda by Paul Rusesabagina
  3. Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey by Fergal Keane
  4. Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak by Jean Hatzfeld
  5. The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo by Clea Koff

Despite the difficulties presented with the subject matter, I would still give this book five out of five stars.

Article written by me and first published as Book Review: A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld on Blogcritics. This review contains afilliate links.

Leaked United Nations report into Congo

Rwandan refugees passed a body in a refugee camp in Congo in 1997.
Rwandan refugees passed a body in a refugee camp in Congo in 1997.
Image © Roger Lemoyne/Liaison, via Getty Images

Three weeks ago, a United Nations mapping report “documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003” was leaked to the press.  The purpose of the report is a mapping exercise to detail over 600 cases of serious atrocities that occurred in the DRC during the ten year period and it includes of attacks against Tutsi and Banyamulenge civilians and Hutu refugees.  This is a massive 508 page document that gives harrowing detail of rapes, murders, torture and war crimes committed against both civilian and militia targets. 

Unfortunately, the appalling and shocking nature of the crimes has become overshadowed in the political storm that has resulted since then.  Quite simply, the report could possibly implicate the Rwandan government in an act of genocide against Hutu refugees that fled to what was then Zaire after the 1994 genocide.  Civilians made up of men, women and children were not separated from the Interahamwe militia in refugee camps and the report contains allegations that Rwandan soldiers were indiscriminate and unrelenting in their attempts to pursue the former militias.  The New York Times reported in the article U.N. Congo Report Offers New View on Genocide that the massacres were systematic and that insufficient effort was made to protect (or even exclude) civilians from the attacks.  The New York Times then reported that the U.N. Delays Release of Report on Possible Congo Genocide and that Rwanda were so angry about the report that they were threatening to pull peacekeeping troops out of Darfur.

On his blog Congo Siasa, Jason Stearns reminds us that:

“The report's intention is to call for accountability for the mass atrocities committed during ten years of conflict in the Congo, not to single out Rwanda for "acts of genocide." Indeed, Angolan, Burundian, Ugandan, Chadian and Congolese officials are also cited for war crimes in the report. While the systematic massacre of Rwandan Hutu refugees stands out as one of the worst crimes committed during the war and deserves to be highlighted, the press should have put the report in context and highlighted its call for a tribunal and a truth and reconciliation commission” - Thoughts on the UN mapping report (Congo Siasa, August 28, 2010)

The most interesting portions of the United Nations document are commentary on why the Truth and reconciliation commission failed and the insight into the nature of sexual violence in the area.  I have uploaded the full document which you can either read online or download (5.79mb). 


The above mentioned report refers to the specific period from 1993 to 2003.  What it does not cover is the ongoing violence against women and children in the area.  It is reported that starting in July 2010, rebels forces took over an area in eastern Congo and up to 242 women were raped.  The New York Times article Rape Victims in Congo Raid Now More Than 240 details how Congolese and Rwandan rebels groups took over villages in the Walikale region of North Kivu “assaulting their victims in groups of two to six”. 

The Rwandan forces involved are members of the Hutu power rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (DFLR).  The group is also known as FDLR after their French name Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda.  This group is opposed to Tutsi rule and influence in the region and is made up of many former Interahamwe members. 

As usual, there are reports of United Nations inaction.  They were aware of the attacks since 30 July and that nothing was done to prevent the numbers of victims rising to over 242 by early September.

An Examination of the Genocide in Darfur

Girl carrying baby brother
Girl carrying baby brother, originally uploaded by stopgenocidenow

This is a guest post by Joy Henry.

Darfur is an area in western Sudan, a country on the east coast of Africa. Since 2003, a civil war has been waged in the region, killing over 400,000 and displacing over 2.5 million. The Sudanese government is directing an ongoing push to kill off an ethnically distinct portion of its population, the African Muslims who inhabit the Darfur region.

Who is Involved

Sudan can roughly be divided into north and south portions, each with a distinct ethnic population; the north has mainly a tribal Arab population, while the south has black Africans farmers. There is a history of tension and racist feelings between the two populations--after slavery ended here, Arab feelings of superiority became directed towards the African population. The Sudanese government has been decidedly Arab-centric and supportive of these racist views. The Darfur region, a region with a mixed population, actually had not felt the discrimination as harshly until a group of Africans joined together and began confronting the Sudanese government about its racist practices.

The fighting began in 2003, when a group of black Africans called the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) began accusing the government of supporting Arabs and discriminating against Africans.

In response to this uprising by the SLM/A and the JEM, the Sudanese government enlisted its military as well as Arab tribesman to fight against the rebels. This group of Arab tribesman, called the Janjaweed, have been called a "mixture of the mafia and the Ku Klux Klan" by reporters. The Janjaweed view Africans as less than human, and began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them. The government's military and the Janjaweed militia have used terrifying tactics of rape, starvation, and mass murder against the African populations in Darfur.

What is Being Done to End the Genocide

Amnesty International was one of the first to report the genocide in Darfur and spread awareness about the situation, in July 2003. After the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan called Darfur "the world's greatest humanitarian crisis" in 2004, international media attention began pouring in.

In 2006, the UN began putting peacekeeping troops on the ground in Sudan. The troops focused on protecting civilians and ensuring that humanitarian aid was getting safely into the country.  By 2006, the UN has upwards of 20,000 troops, police, and civilians on the ground there.

A woman and her two sons
A woman and her two sons, originally uploaded by hdptcar

Criticism of the Response to Darfur

Without great monetary support from the wealthy nations of the world, however, the UN peacekeeping forces have fallen far short of what is necessary to contain the genocide in Darfur. Throughout 2008, the UN troops were far too small, and the lack of necessary equipment, like helicopters, impeded their efforts. Some groups argue that if the Security Council and the UN had responded to Darfur sooner, that the crisis there could have been averted.

China has especially been criticized for supporting the Sudanese government in order to ensure its access to oil reserves in the region. It has also been repeatedly accused of supplying weapons to the government's military.

How Can You Help

There are several things you can do to help end the crisis in Darfur. One is to write your local Congressperson to ask them keep Darfur an important issue in the government. At SaveDarfur.org, you can easily put in your information and send a form letter asking different officials to take action on Darfur.

Another important step you can take is donating to groups that are working to improve the situation there. Some great organizations are Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and CARE.

You can also encourage divestment from companies that support the genocide in Darfur. The Divest for Darfur campaign rallies U.S. investment firms to keep their funds out of these companies.

And finally and most importantly, stay informed on the current news of what's happening in Darfur. The Save Darfur Blog is a good place to start. Darfur Voices, STAND, and Humanitarian Rights are other good sites.

Project 2,996: Suresh Yanamadala

Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. lost 295 colleagues in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.  I cannot even begin to conceive the impact that losing that many employees could do to a company and I imagine that it was simply devastating.  You can visit the full MMC memorial to their lost friends and colleagues on the MMC Memorial website.

Suresh YanamadalaToday I am writing about one of those MMC colleagues as part of Project 2,996.  His name was Suresh Yanamadala and he was just 33-years-old at the time of the attacks.  He lived in Plainsboro, New Jersey and worked as a consultant at Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.  He was survived by his wife Ajitha.

Suresh was incredibly popular amongst his colleagues on account of his easy smile and friendly nature.  Tribute after tribute from his colleagues describe his good sense of humor and how people instantly liked him the moment they met him.  He was kind and gentle, according to his friend Keith and another friend Mike described how Suresh immediately made friends with all of his friends because everyone just loved him. 

Suresh Yanamadala was a remarkable man who left a deep impact on the lives of everyone who met him.  He had such a magnetic personality that work colleagues became firm friends.  There is so little information on Suresh online but I know that the reason for that is that Suresh was larger than life and that he remains very much in the hearts and minds of his friends and family and especially his wife Ajitha. 

If any of Suresh’s friends or family would like to give any further photos or share any memories, I would be happy to update this tribute on your behalf.

Project 2,996: Rosa Gonzalez

This is the tribute that I wrote for Rosa Gonzalez as part of the Project 2,996 in 2009.  I will post another entry tomorrow and hopefully by next year, we’ll be able to ensure that tributes for all 2,996 victims are online.

Today, I remember Rosa Gonzalez, a victim of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th 2001. I’m writing this today as part of Project 2,996 and you can visit the site to read more tributes to the victims of 9/11.  An amazing 1,081 people (so far) will be remembered formally this year through Project 2,996 but the purpose of the project is to let the world know that we will never forget.  We will never forget the victims or the loss experienced by their families, friends, communities and indeed, the world.

Rosa Gonzalez was a single mother aged 32 and her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer meant the world to her.  She was very much loved by all who knew her and as her brother-in-law Jeffrey said in a tribute to her on the Legacy site, “Rosa was also a beautiful and caring person that certainly did not deserve to die in this way… Rosa was a single mother that really making an effort to better herself and give her daughter the best upbringing possible. Her job with the Port Authority was another step towards success”.

Jeffrey and his wife took Jennifer in after 9/11.  Shortly after the attacks, Rosa Gonzalez phoned her sister Migdalia from the 66th floor of 2 World Trade Center, told her she loved her and asked her sister to take care of her daughter.  The New York Times tribute to Rosa quotes her sister Maria as saying, “Of course, Migdalia will take care of Jennifer.  We will all take care of Jennifer. The situation is, we have to be strong for Jennifer.”

Rosa Gonzalez was one of seven sisters and she lived in New Jersey.  It is clear that everyone who met her was taken by her infectious smile and friendly nature.  As P. Martinez says on the Legacy site, “"I met Rosa a couple of years ago when she was working at the Housing Authority. She was always so happy and up-beat, kind and caring… My heart goes out to her daughter, I hope she'll always know what a great mother she had. I'm sorry Rosa that your life was cut so short”.

It is clear that Rosa stood out in the community and people remembered her once they had met her.  This is evidenced by the number of people that expressed guilt at escaping from the Twin Towers themselves and their sadness of hearing of Rosa’s passing.  I found the comments by her neighbour Cindy to be especially poignant as her grief was clear in her remarks: “It has taken me this long to be able to view this site. Rosa, Maggie and I lived in the same building and I still remember the day I was able to get home and found out Rosa wasn't. Sitting in the apartment with her family, posting pictures, leaving candles and flowers and waiting for any word at all. Although we were not close friends I will always remember the beautiful petite woman that Rosa was. I would give anything to be able to call her again to ask her to turn the music down!! Maggie I will always be here for you if you need me for anything”.

Rosa Gonzalez had been with her friend and colleague Genelle Guzman McMillan as they descended the stairs together and tried to escape from the World Trade Center.  They had been holding hands but were separated as the building came crashing down.  Genelle was the last person pulled out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center alive.

Rosa was one woman out of so many that died that day but she was a kind, caring and friendly woman who left behind heartbroken family, friends and co-workers and most importantly, her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer.  I hope that I have succeeded in paying tribute to Rosa Gonzalez and that her daughter knows that people all around the world are thinking of her and her family on this anniversary of the attacks.  Jennifer also left a tribute at the Legacy site: “hi my names jen rosa was my mother she was a very good person i love u and miss u so much we will never forgat u ever”.

I’ll be posting this one day early so as to assist the people at Project 2,996 in logging the names of this year’s participants.  They have over a thousand entries to log after all!

Project 2,996 2010

I’m taking part in Project 2,996 again this year.  I know it is a bit late to be posting about it two days before the anniversary but there are still about 350 people who do not have tributes.  You can take part by choosing a victim who does not yet have a tribute and writing a tribute and even if it is not up by Saturday, at least we can get all 2,996 up by next year.

One important thing to remember is that even though it is a big anniversary next year, the loss of the people in the 9/11 attacks is real to their families and friends each and every day.  The grieving process is always hard around big anniversaries or milestones but don’t forget to offer your support today if you can. 

Project 2,996 is a project whereby bloggers remember the lives of the victims of 9/11 and not their deaths.  This is not about the perpetrators and who they were and why they did it.  This is about 2,996 amazing, inspiring and good people who lost their lives that day.


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