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Rwandan mother and baby sleeping in a refugee camp
Rwandan mother and baby sleeping in a refugee camp
Fanny Kaneza

KIGALI — The shocking thought is said out loud, and repeated. "I can only be relieved when I kill my father." The 19-year-old who calls himself DG seethes with rage when talking about his father. "He's a coward, a torturer who doesn't deserve anything but death," he insists.

The truth about his conception, birth and upbringing have scarred this young man in the deepest of ways. During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, DG's mother was only 17. Members of the government-backed militia Interahamwe slaughtered most of her family. One of them however "protected" her and took her with him. From the very first night, he raped her. And thus began months of violence and misery.

The man fled to another country where he kept DG's mother locked inside a makeshift house for refugees, scared that other militiamen would recognize her and kill her. For more than a year, she was forced to live as a "couple" with one of the men who had massacred her family.

Eventually she managed to escape with her baby and return to Rwanda, where she roamed helplessly, trying to find her way. When she returned to Rwanda, her brother, who was then in the military, made it clear that she could not raise the child of an Interahamwe. Others around her agreed.

"Many came and offered to kill the boy," she explains. "But given what I had gone through, he was my only source of comfort." Her suffering continued, as everybody around her kept calling her child agaterahamwe, little militiaman.

"Nobody could understand me. I had given birth to an unwanted boy, a child born of hatred, a child of the enemy," she says. Finally, with no support from her family or friends, she decided to turn DG over to be cared for in an orphanage.

For many years, DG asked his mother about his father's identity. But she could not bring herself to reveal the whole truth about how and why he was born. With the help of an NGO however, she eventually told him.

DG shared her pain, but it woke an anger inside of him. Now, to avenge his mother, he contemplates killing his father, who is imprisoned for his role in the genocide. "When my son remembers that he was born of my being raped, he asks me to show him who his father is so he can ask him why he did it," she says.

Questions don't go away

Who is my father? Who are the members of my family on my mother's side, and on my father's? Why do some call me Interahamwe? For many children born of the mass rapes 20 years ago, these are crucial questions that nonetheless bring back painful memories and reopen deep psychological wounds for their mothers.

"When my son asked me these kinds of questions, I was instantly shaken by violent sobs, instead of replying," remembers DG's mother.

Several NGOs are involved in the rehabilitation and the support of these children and their mothers, with the goal of allowing these children to know where they come from as a way to better know who they are.

Many of the broken-hearted mothers have kept these atrocities from their sons and daughters for more than 15 years, before finally telling them the truth. They were ill-treated, stigmatized or even discriminated against during their childhood, often leading to poor performance at school and fewer opportunities as adulthood approaches.

Several reports show that leaders of militias deliberately chose men who were infected with HIV to rape and contaminate women whose families were slaughtered. It is estimated that some 65% of those who survived the genocide are now living with AIDS.

A study from Human Rights Watch published in 2000 said that a staggering 500,000 women were raped. Because they could not abort, the survivors had to carry their torturer's child. Some mothers never grew to love their child, and there are an estimated 20,000 of what some call "bad-memory children," who were raised by their mothers, alone, against the wishes of family and the wider community.

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