“When hate persists, how will you coexist?”
“The only alternative to coexistence is codestruction” – Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Prime Minister
On Wednesday I attended a screening of the Adam Mazo / Amazo Productions documentary Coexist at the Wiener Library in London followed by a question and answer session with David Russell of the Survivors Fund (SURF).
The reality in Rwanda today is that many of the survivors have no choice but to live amongst and interact with the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide.
On June 18, 2012, the Gacaca court process is due to end after hearing almost 2 million cases. There was some good that came of these courts as the survivors were provided with an element of truth and a modicum of closure. However, the prisons in Rwanda were overflowing and over the years (for example, in 2003 and 2005), President Paul Kagame sanctioned the mass release of confessed killers into the community.
In their relentless quest to move forwards and to not dwell in the past, the Rwandan government is hard-selling the idea of unity and reconciliation. The history of the genocide is not taught in schools and people are encouraged to views themselves as Rwandans and no longer Hutus or Tutsis.
What becomes increasingly clear in the documentary is that people are saying what they think they are meant to say, that they are forced to follow the government’s policies and are made to deal with their pain and devastation behind closed doors. It seems that a great deal of effort is put into assimilating the perpetrators back into the community with reconciliation workshops and other initiatives.
But what of the survivors?
There are three major themes in the documentary which were picked up in the discussion: reparations and compensation, rehumanisation, and coexistence.
Reparations and Compensation
Given the reality of the overcrowded prisons and the logistics of sentencing each and every single perpetrator of the genocide, many individuals were simply released on time served. Some were sentenced to community service or to work on public works with no direct benefit to the survivors.
Even if an order was passed for reparations or compensation, the perpetrators are often indigent (as are the survivors), with no means to pay their debts and it is rare that reparation or compensation orders are enforced.
David Russell explained that as the Gacaca process draws to a close, SURF are now moving to gather data on how many orders still need to be enforced. He explained that initially it was impossible to put a number on the sheer magnitude of loss during the genocide. How do you quantify the loss of parents, children, a spouse? How do you apply numbers to the loss of property or to abuse, rape and trauma? The government had to support the most vulnerable and now there are motions to focus on compensation once again. From the SURF website:
“Over the past month in Rwanda, SURF in partnership with Redress, and in collaboration with IBUKA, has been working on a project exploring the rights to reparation (which includes compensation, restitution and rehabilitation) for survivors” – Compensation, SURF website, 6 April 2012
It is easy to focus on the challenges and shortcomings evident in present-day Rwanda but we must not lose sight of the human beings involved and their incredible achievements over the past years.
David Russell reminded us that everybody has their own experiences during a genocide and there are four main classes of people: victims, perpetrators, witnesses and rescuers. The challenge is to rehumanise people so that they no longer see themselves in terms of these labels but come to define themselves as Rwandans again, as human beings.
But many survivors are in an untenable situation. Fifi talks of the abuse she suffered at the hands of relatives after the genocide, how she grew up alone and without a family. For her and Agnes, the pain and suffering did not end in 1994 but continues to this day. Agnes suffers with the fact that she was raped and the enduring legacy of those attacks. Théophilla was the only member of her family to survive the genocide. Domitilie’s husband became a judge with the Gacaca courts and was murdered as a result of his work there. Still these women must continue to live amongst and meet the perpetrators and murders on a daily basis.
Part of the work that counsellors and victim support groups must undertake is to assist survivors with their reconciliation, recovery and search for meaning. Despite their circumstances, these women have achieved great things in their lives with Agnes leading a team of women that caters for the reconciliation workshops, Théophilla counsels those with PTSD and Fifi is attending law school.
“We cannot have a land of victims and a land of perpetrators” – Fatuma Ndangiza, RPF government official
It is clear at this time, when the genocide trials are drawing to a close, that the real fight has only just begun. Throughout the coexistdocumentary.org website, the following quote is displayed:
“If we ignore each other, the genocide could happen again”
This really resonates with me. When I returned from Serbia in 2010, the overwhelming impression I got was that genocide, intolerance and conflict could erupt again. It seemed to me that nothing was being done to ensure unity and reconciliation amongst the Balkan states, NATO was still identified as an unfair aggressor, and I was informed that the school curriculum still defended Serbian hostilities during the the war and later in Kosovo.
It impresses me that despite the hurdles raised in this film, a lot more is being done in the name of unity and reconciliation in Rwanda than in other former conflict zones and scenes of ethnic or racial intolerance.
What occurred to me during the screening and the following discussion is that there is a four point continuum from revenge to coexistence:
revenge – tolerance – reconciliation – coexistence
Those interviewed in the film stressed the need to forgive in order to move on. This despite the fact that the killers often show no remorse, have not asked for forgiveness, and continue to taunt them during commemorations, asking if they have not cried enough.
There is simply no other option but to coexist and that is why the work of SURF in supporting survivors and gaining compensation is so important.
Coexist is a must-see documentary that I would recommend to both individuals interested in Rwanda and those with an interest in escalating ethnic or racial tensions across the globe. You can purchase the documentary here or watch it in full here.