Genocide universal issue: survivor

Woman aims to increase awareness during anniversary


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Twenty years ago, a population about the size of metropolitan Winnipeg was wiped out in 100 days and the world did nothing to stop it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/04/2014 (3231 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Twenty years ago, a population about the size of metropolitan Winnipeg was wiped out in 100 days and the world did nothing to stop it.

University of Manitoba Prof. Régine Uwibereyeho King was there. She ran for her life during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and remembers it vividly. To mark its anniversary Monday, she’s helped organize events to remind people about the 800,000 who died and what happens when acts of inhumanity are ignored.

“Genocide is not a Rwandan problem. It is a world-wide issue and we should remember so we can work on future genocidal movements,” said the survivor and social work professor.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Rwandan genocide survivor Régine Uwibereyeho King says surviving the genocide obliges her to educate others.

“We see what’s happening. It’s very dangerous but not many people seem to care.”

The Rwandan genocide began on April 7, 1994, the day after the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down.

King was 27 and home from university at the family farm with her widowed mom and brothers and sister.

“I was just on holidays before I returned to school,” she said.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen until we were threatened on the streets by people we used to think were friends,” said the Tutsi woman. In school, they hadn’t learned about the Holocaust or how a genocide can and has happened in the 20th century, said King.

“Through the media we’d heard there was danger. What we didn’t know was to what extent it was going to take.”

Two of her brothers — Alex, 29, and Emmanuel, 16 — were slain. Another brother — Theoneste, 21 — survived three separate machete attacks, each time being left for dead.

The Hutu majority was wiping out the Tutsi minority. Soldiers, police, militia and civilians armed with machetes took part in the state-sponsored massacre of Tutsi men, women and children along with moderate Hutus. Roadblocks were set up to check Rwandans’ identity cards that list their ethnicity, and Tutsis were put to death.

“I hid like everyone else,” said King. Brave neighbours hid her family members from time to time, she added.

“They were ready to protect us and give whatever was required to keep us safe.” Her family tried to stay together but often had to scatter to find places to hide. Most of the time, it was a scramble.

“People were hiding in bushes and running here and there,” she said. Every decision could result in life or death.

“I had no special skills for how to hide,” said King. “It was a matter of chance.

“So many people were with me and they were killed and others who figured they were in the best hiding place and were discovered.”

She’s not holding onto survivors’ guilt.

Sayyid Azim / The Associated Press files A Rwandan survivor of the 1994 genocide prays over the bones of genocide victims at a mass grave in Nyamata, Rwanda, on April 6, 2004, the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.

“For me, at the end of genocide, my life was saved for a purpose,” said King. “I felt like I was in a more privileged position — I had education. While everyone else had lost everything they owned at least I had an educational background. I was put in a position to help.”

Surviving the genocide obliged her to help with the healing, she said. But first, the social worker received counselling for herself.

“You can’t help people without helping yourself first. I had to process the death of my family members,” said King.

She worked as a co-ordinator and facilitator of a trauma-healing program through World Vision Rwanda, bringing together Hutus and Tutsis. She moved to Canada in 2000, where she worked as a mental-health counsellor and a public speaker. She’s often invited to share her story with schools and church groups.

“I’ve told it so many times since I moved to Canada,” she said. Telling it wasn’t hard — it was the reaction that bothered her at first, she said.

“My biggest frustration is people were so eager to listen but after they listen they’d just look down and walk out. ‘Did you hear anything?’ ” King wondered. “Over time, it came to my attention that they didn’t have the words to say.”

Anger over what happened — and the world letting it happen — hasn’t consumed her.

“If it did, I know I would die very quickly. Negative emotions do damage.” She’s been able to stay positive for several reasons, gratitude being a major one. Two of her sisters and two of her brothers survived the genocide and she was not physically injured. She had an education no one could take away she could use to help others. King said she made a promise to God to take care of the vulnerable and tell the story of what happened.

“Maybe one of the reasons I’m here is to put a face to what happened in 1994.”

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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