by Alice Gatebuke
People often say, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” As a Rwandan Genocide survivor, I would not be alive if not for good people who stood up, advocated for and protected me, facilitating my ultimate survival amidst the deafening silence of the international community. I was 9 years old when I found myself caught in a maelstrom of violence that threatened to destroy everything I knew and held dear. And in many ways, all of those things, including family, friends, neighbors, home and communities were destroyed.
I remember having a group of men wrap me in a blanket and smuggle me to a safe house in a different neighborhood. Petrified, I watched as these men accosted and negotiated with my would-be killers on a daily basis to save my life. I watched in horror and helplessness as my mother and brother were taken from my sister, young cousin and me to be killed. My mother and brother were told they had reached the end of their lives and were then given tools to dig their own graves. Through the intervention of old friends, strangers and new allies, my mother and brother’s lives were spared, and our family was reunited.
I cannot imagine how my life would have been different had these individuals not intervened. They placed themselves and their families in danger by advocating for us. In our darkest moments I witnessed the zenith of human compassion. I saw the beauty and potential of the human spirit when good people unite for a good cause. Farmers, street kids, courageous women with children raised their voices against a group of evil doers. Through their acts of solidarity, lives were spared. My faith in humanity was reassured even in the midst of so much violence, death and destruction. Sadly though, the international community remained silent about what was taking place in my country.
As I watch today the increasingly disturbing downward spiral in my country of birth, I am once again reminded of the international community’s complicity and silence in the destruction of an entire nation. In recent times, when the first woman ever to run for president in my country was attacked by a mob, there was silence. While local newspapers were shut down, their writers exiled and others incarcerated, I witnessed nothing but shrugs from the international community. When Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported on the growing repression and jailing of an increasing number of people based on vague laws applied to political opponents of the ruling regime, I saw nothing but rationalization from the international community.
Recently, an American lawyer and professor, who is representing a hopeful presidential candidate, was jailed in Rwanda. His arrest and subsequent charges were based on his work as a defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. He stands accused of genocide ideology and negationism, the same crimes of which his client is also accused.
As a genocide survivor, I take genocide crimes very seriously and strongly believe that each and every perpetrator of these crimes should be brought to justice and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I also believe that each accused deserves and must be accorded a fair trial. The right to a fair trial and due process is a highly valued universal principle. Therefore, I am perplexed by the silence around the professor’s arrest and the length of time it took the international community to intervene.
Due to Rwanda’s economic progress, some of which is unfortunately derived from Congolese minerals and “supply side economics,” human rights abuses are mere inconveniences to those strictly focused on economic growth. While Rwanda has become one of the most praised and progressive economies in Africa, the international community has watched it ravage neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo with impunity. An estimated 6 million Congolese lives have been claimed and, tragically, half of those deaths are children under the age of 5.
The Rwandan Genocide was catastrophic. I know … I was there. And I survived. However, it should not be used as a pretext for repressing freedom of others and destroying innocent lives. Although the international community still remains silent in the face of all these grotesque abuses and human rights violations within and outside of Rwanda, the potential positive impact the international community could have on the situation should not be underestimated.
I witnessed first hand the power of good people who cared for a frightened 9-year-old girl and her family. Everyday people opened their mouths and raised their voices. My family, especially my mother and brother, were spared because of ordinary people’s courageous acts of generosity. I am eternally grateful to have lived to share my story. With all that is taking place in Rwanda today, especially the present-day eerie similarities to the pre-1994 genocide period, will the international community intervene now? One can only imagine the millions of lives that could be saved.
Alice Gatebuke is a Rwandan Genocide and war survivor, Cornell University graduate and human rights activist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the resource wars that are slaughtering millions in Congo and threatening renewed violence in Rwanda, visit and join Friends of the Congo, at http://friendsofthecongo.org/.