I am a genocidal woman and the memories of what I did still haunt me

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I am a genocidal woman and the memories of what I did still haunt me





© NATALIA OJEWSKA
The role of women in the Rwandan genocide is rarely discussed.


Tens of thousands of women participated in the genocidior Rwanda in 1994, but the role they played and the hard reconciliationwith their families.The journalist Natalia Ojewskatalked cwith some of those female perpetrators who are still found in prison.

What started with a routine trip to get water for breakfast ended with Fortunata Mukankuranga participating in two murders.

Dressed in the orange prison uniform and speaking in a subdued, calm voice, the woman recalls the events of the morning of Sunday, April 10, 1994.

When he was on his way to fetch water, he found a group of attackers hitting two men in the middle of the street.

“When (they both) fell to the ground I picked up a stick and said: ‘The Tutsies must die!’ Then I hit one of them and then the other … I was one of the murderers,” says the 70-year-old woman.

Troubled by the murders

Those were two of the 800,000 murders of members of the Tutsi ethnic group and the Hutus that occurred in the country in a space of 100 days.

After participating in the massacre, Mukankuranga, a Hutu, returned to her home where her seven children were waiting for her, feeling deeply ashamed.


In prison women have time to confess to reconcile with their victims.


© NATALIA OJEWSKA
In prison women have time to confess to reconcile with their victims.


Memories of what I did still haunt her.

“I am a mother and I killed the parents of some children,” she says.

A few days later, two terrified Tutsi children, whose parents had just been killed with machetes, knocked on their door asking for refuge.

Guilt wave

The woman did not hesitate and hid them in the attic, where the children survived the massacres.

“Even when I saved the children, I failed those two men. That help will never change the wave of guilt,” says Mukankuranga.

She is one of the estimated 96,000 women convicted of their involvement in the genocide. Some killed adults, such as Mukankuranga, others killed children, and still others encouraged men to commit rape and murder.

On the night of April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down as he approached the capital’s Kigali airport.

Although the identities of the assassins were never established, Hutu extremists immediately accused Tutsi rebels of having carried out the attack.

A few hours later, thousands of Hutus, indoctrinated for decades with abhorrent ethnic propaganda, they joined in the organized killing.

Women’s participation challenges the stereotype of Rwandan women as protective and reassuring.

“It is very difficult to understand how a woman who loves her children could go to a neighbor’s house to kill her children,” says Regine Abanyuze, who works for Never Again, a non-governmental organization that promotes peace and reconciliation. .

However, once the spark of atrocities was ignited, thousands of women acted as agents of violence alongside the men.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former Minister for Family and Women’s Development, was one of the few women in Rwanda to occupy an important leadership position on the male-dominated political scene.

She played a critical role in orchestrating the genocide.


Martha Mukamushinzimana says she was just following orders.


© NATALIA OJEWSKA
Martha Mukamushinzimana says she was just following orders.


In 2011, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found her guilty of genocide.

Remains the only woman who has been sentenced for rape as a crime against humanity.

Nyiramasuhuko was in charge of the militiamen who raped Tutsi women in the Butare Prefecture Office.

But while she was in a leadership position, some ordinary women also incited men.

Others had no reservations to use any weapon at your disposal to slaughter their neighbors.

There are no special rehabilitation programs for genocidal women, and many people cannot reconcile what they did with traditional perceptions of a woman’s role.

Two visions of a massacre

Marthe Mukamushinzimana has five children and for 15 years she secretly carried the burden of the crime she committed, until she decided to appear before the judicial authorities in 2009 because she could no longer live with the secret.

Many women who define themselves through the prism of motherhood, feel overwhelmed with guilt by admitting to their loved ones that they did not fulfill their role as protectors.

“Time is the main rehabilitation tool we use. We want to give them as much time as necessary to listen to them and gradually bring them to the point of confession,” says Grace Ndawany, director of the women’s prison in Ngoma, in the eastern province of Rwanda.

“Because my house was located near the main road, I would listen to all the whistles and watch my Tutsi neighbors being taken to church,” says Mukamushinzimana, sitting in a small prison room and sometimes crying.

Thousands of Tutsis, huddled around the Nyamasheke Catholic Church, fought for their lives for a week.


The objective is to reintegrate the perpetrators into society.


© NATALIA OJEWSKA
The objective is to reintegrate the perpetrators into society.


Stanislus Kayitera, now 53, was one of the few survivors.

His arms show a long, uneven scar from shrapnel from a grenade.

“I remember the women picking up stones and giving them to the men, who were throwing them at us. The men were also shooting, throwing grenades and spraying gasoline on people and then setting them on fire.”

“And then they entered the church and they started to beat us to death“says Kayitera, who survived by hiding under the corpses.

Mukamushinzimana says she felt compelled to follow orders.

I put my baby on my back and I joined a group that was collecting stones that they used to kill people who were hiding in the church, “says the woman, who had given birth just two weeks earlier.

When she was jailed in 2009, none of her family wanted to take care of her five children.

“Genocide is a crime against entire communities. It not only damages the dignity of the victims, but also that of the perpetrators. And those people also need to recover,” says Fidele Ndayisaba, executive secretary of the Commission for National Unity and Reconciliation from Rwanda.

Genocidal women who reveal the truth are urged to write letters to their families and the families of their victims in order to build trust step by step.

Once released, these women face different challenges than men on their way to reintegration.

Some of their husbands remarried and disinherited them from their property. Their communities no longer receive them and they have to face rejection from their close relatives.

But there is a lot of emphasis that healing takes time and there are still some prisoners who are reluctant to reject the ideology of ethnic hatred.

“Yes, we have some people who deny their crimes. They are difficult cases, but their number is getting smaller and smaller,” says Ndayisaba.

I couldn’t contain the crying

Fortunata Mukankuranga found courage to confess their crimes four years later of his 2007 conviction.

She remembers that she felt nervous when she asked the son of one of her victims for forgiveness.

Against his expectations, “he was happy and enthusiastic when we met and I couldn’t help crying when I hugged him“, bill.

Mukankuranga now cautiously looks to the future, hopes to be able to rebuild the fragile bonds with his loved ones.

“When I go home I will live in peace with my family and be more loving and caring with people. Now I am paying the consequences of my crime. As a mother, I am not supposed to be in prison,” she adds.

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