Geopolitics

Sons Of Rwanda Genocide Rapes Hunt Down Their Fathers

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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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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