War and sexual violence: a genocide survivor's story
As the UN's four day summit on preventing sexual violence during war comes to a close, Elizabeth Nyirafaranga tells us about her experiences during the horrific events of the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago. With the help of the charity, ActionAid, she has been able to come to terms with the loss and violence of those months.
War and sexual violence: a genocide survivor's story
Posted on: Thu 12-Jun-14 11:07:08
(3 comments )
Elizabeth was able to reclaim the home she lost with the help of ActionAid.
My name is Elizabeth, I am 45 years old and I live in Gahigiro village in Gitesi sector of Karongi district in the western part of Rwanda.
I am a mother of seven children and married for the second time after my first husband died during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, as did my two first born children. They were very, very young when I lost them; 2 and a half years old and 9 months old. They smashed my baby’s head and I can still hear how the older one screamed. I will never forget it. It is 20 years ago but I still cry when I think about it. Four of my sister’s children were killed at the same time. The worst part of it was that it was a cousin of mine who caused it all.
We had already fled from our home when it happened. First we had thought we could stay at home when the genocide started, but when the roof got torn off the house, doors and windows stolen, and the killings and lootings only increased we realised we had to flee our much loved home. My husband told me to bring the children home to my family, who were registered Hutus, where he thought they would be safe. He took refuge in the nearby plantation.
My sister had fled to our family home as well. We were there with our six small children when they came and demanded to get a cow in order to save our lives. We thought our children would be safe at our own family's home. We had never imagined that it would be a close relative of ours who would cause their death.
There were many men; one man after another raped us. I was on my stomach fighting to get away when I saw them taking the children.
But it was my cousin who alerted the others and told them where we were hiding with the small children. When they came we did not have any cows to give them and when they did not get what they wanted they raped us repeatedly, which we surrendered to in order to save our lives and our children.
The second time they came it was worse. Again they raped us. There were many men; one man after another raped us. I was on my stomach fighting to get away when I saw them taking the children. I was so frightened about what they would do to the children, but I did not have enough strength to push them away. I pleaded, but they had no mercy, the children were brutally murdered.
Afterwards I got very sick. Emotionally, I felt numb and the rape had affected my body badly. The rape damaged my uterus and I could not walk or even move. I stayed in a stupor in the house. I got treatment with herbal medicine. It helped somewhat, but not entirely, and for a long time I kept having problems with my uterus until I finally got medical treatment at the hospital many years later.
In the following month after the children had been murdered, I heard that my husband was killed after he fled to Kibuye for his safety. When I returned to my home, a sister of my husband claimed that the house and the land around it was not mine any longer. My husband was dead and his children were dead, so I had no rights to any of it any longer.
Without a husband, without children and without anywhere to stay and no land to cultivate I had to rebuild my life. I married again and we have six children together. The oldest was born two years after the genocide.
It’s the work and friendship in the Buhozanye Cooperative that has helped me move on. For some of us it has been hard to accept and forgive what happened and move on. For me it was very hard to accept that the bodies of my children should be buried together with other genocide victims three hours away from my home by foot. I wanted to keep them close to our home where I had buried them and where I could treasure their memory. It was very hard to accept digging up their bodies, it was like reliving it all over again. But the other members of the co-operation helped me understand that by moving their bodies to the memorial they would never be forgotten.
Like the other members of the Cooperative, I have received support from ActionAid. I have been trained in family law and through ActionAid I got assistance to claim the rights to the land I had lost.
Support ActionAid’s women’s rights work and until the 25 June the UK government will match every pound you give, so your money will go twice as far to help women and girls work their way out of poverty and violence.
Its hard to understand how people survive in these countries where there are so many terrible things happening and people are living in fear of themselves and their children being murdered, like Elizabeth's. How they overcome the terrible sadness and carry on is a miracle in itself. Everyone who helps these people is doing momentus work, amazing, and we just hope and pray for them all. x