Rwanda: 20 years after the genocide, one woman explains how she overcame the horrors of her past

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Over the course of 100 days, over 800,000 people were killed for being part of a different ethnic community. To date, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 remains the largest of modern times.

Twenty-years later, the effects are still being felt across the country, and to understand the effects we are publishing 10 stories from female victims of sexual violence who are still overcoming the effects of this genocide.

In our third story, we hear from 40-year-old Hildegarde Nyampinga who vividly recalls the beginning of the genocide, the murder of her parents, and the horrifying ordeal she endured afterwards as gangs of men raped her.

It took years for Hildegarde to come to terms with what she had experienced but, slowly, she began to move on. And although today Hildegarde still suffers from the rape and torture she suffered – her battle against HIV is notable in particular – therapy has helped her to forgive.

You can read an extract of her story “I died and was resurrected” below. To read her full story, click this link. And to read the stories of the other brave women featured in our campaign, click this link.

Hildegarde’s story

I was born in 1974 in the Southern Province of Rwanda, where I grew up with my ten siblings. I moved after the genocide.

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

Today, I live in Bugesera District, in the Eastern Province. My parents were killed during the 1994 genocide. Before they died, I had a very good life. The affection I was given by my aunt is the most pleasant thing I can remember from my life before the genocide. Since my aunt was also killed during the genocide, I cannot enjoy getting her affection anymore.

Even though I was sometimes tortured by the secretary of our commune, who used to tell me that once the war started they would violate me with a piece of tree in my vagina, I never thought a genocide would happen. It was in 1992 that I saw Tutsis being killed for the first time. Before the soldiers killed them, they made them dig the holes into which they would be thrown.

Once, on the way to visit my relatives who were refugees at the Catholic Church of Nyamata, I was taken out of the bus and almost raped by soldiers. Another Tutsi passenger was killed in front of my eyes. I went home very scared, but still it did not enter my mind that genocide could happen in my home area.

I experienced the genocide in the South where I grew up. One day, my sister’s domestic worker, who was married to a Hutu, came  and told us that we should not go to sleep because the plane of the president had crashed. That raised ethnic tensions and immediately touched off heaving fighting around the presidential palace and a frenzy of killing of Tutsis. That same night, I observed houses being burnt down. We slept outside of our house. After three days, the killings in our area started.

Perpetrators came to our house asking for me. I was with my parents. With a big abscess on his buttocks, my father could not run. On the fourth day, while I was discussing with my father about whether to carry him on my back in order to search for a place to hide, a crowd of Interahamwe and Burundian refugees caught us at our place. I saw the Interahamwe cutting off my father’s neck with a machete, after they had hit him with a hoe on the head. They threw him into our old latrine. I cannot say what went through my mind while they were cutting him.

Afterwards, they also killed my mother and threw her into the same latrine as my father. Then they decided to rape me.

To read Hildegarde’s full story, click this link (opens as PDF)

To view the full list of stories, which will be updated every two weeks from April until July, please click this link.

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