Twenty years after the Rwandan Genocide, one woman explains how she moved past murder, rape and torture

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Here at World Without Torture we are now halfway through our 10 story campaign focusing on female victims of sexual violence and torture during the 100 days of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

The genocide, which remains the largest of modern times, still has effects on the country 20 years later. To understand the effects we are publishing 10 stories from female victims of sexual violence who are recovering from the trauma.

The fifth story focuses on Berthilde Uwimbabazi, who at the age of 34 witnessed the death of her seven brothers, two sisters, her husband and four children – all at the hands of the Interahamwe (a Hutu paramilitary organisation responsible for many of the deaths at the time).

For Berthilde the torture did not end in the psychological effects of witnessing death. Raped, threatened with grenade attacks, and beaten repeatedly, Berthilde found incredible bravery and strength to overcome her experience. However, through a targeted programme of sociotherapy, Berthilde has overcome her past.

You can read an extract of Berthilde’s story “Sharing my problems soothed my headaches and took me out of loneliness” 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.

Berthilde’s story

My name is Berthilde Uwimbabazi. I come from the Eastern Province, where I was born in 1960, one of 11 children of my farming parents. I married my husband in 1977. We had five children. When the genocide took place, it found us in Bugesera District. My parents, seven brothers and two of my sisters were all killed. Only one of my sisters and I escaped. However, I also lost my husband and four children. One child was killed by a neighbour. Of the children I had with my husband, I remained only with one – the one I carried during the genocide. I also have another daughter as a result of the rape I experienced in 1998 and an adopted child.

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

I had a good life before the genocide. I was still healthy and my husband was working as a mason; we both had enough money as well as a large plot of agricultural land. My husband and I helped and understood each other. I liked my peers, my children, my neighbours and my friends, but most of them were killed during the genocide.

I now live in a complex of newly built houses for poor and vulnerable people, inhabited by people from all over who do not know my sufferings. I sometimes feel intense sadness because they have called me Interahamwe. They were not in Rwanda during the genocide and have no idea about who I am. When I think about what happened to me during the genocide and about the way my neighbours talk about me, I feel intense sadness and grief so strong it kills me.

None of the previous conflicts in Rwanda were as violent as the 1994 genocide. After the airplane of President Habyarimana crashed, the Interahamwe started killing people that same night. My family and I took refuge atthe Nyamata Catholic parish. After a few days, grenades and bombs were thrown into the church, killing or hurting those inside.

Those who had been outside, including me, all ran away on their own without looking back. I went to hide in a nursery school. The same day we were shot at, MINUAR picked up the white French people who were staying there with us.

Three days later, the school guard chased out those who remained. I then started to hide in a forest during the daytime and slept in ruined houses during the nights. At one point the Interahamwe found me there with seven other women and young girls. From then on they raped us in turn in the evening after their daily work of killing Tutsis. We expected them to kill us too but they did not.

To read Mameritha’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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