Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.
16th – Gisenyi is a peaceful place for a holiday, with a golden sandy beach and luxury hotels. Recently, Presidents Kabila and Kagame, of DRC and Rwanda, held a joint press conference on the border between the twin towns of Goma (DRC side) and Gisenyi (Rwanda side). The event created a palpable sense of optimism that security and stability might soon return to the region.
Part of that process involves trying to lure back the armed militias of Rwandan origin who have been living as outlaws, terrorising villagers, in the forests of eastern DRC since the genocide 15 years ago. Today, the Network 7 crew had arranged to visit a nearby Demobilisation and Rehabilitation Centre to interview some of these ex-combatants who, in an extraordinary experiment, are being given the chance of a new life.
The smooth tarmac of Rwanda’s roads wound upwards from the lake and we were soon pulling into a compound with several large corrugated iron buildings. From one of them came the sound of singing and clapping – music is central to Rwandan culture – and after a short wait we entered the barn-like hall. The 200 or so men had clearly been given a lecture, and among the Kinyarwandan words on the blackboard, one stood out – ‘jenocide’.
The principle behind this scheme is that people show remorse for the suffering they have caused, and learn to live a normal life again. Our driver Yahaya announced in Kinyarwanda what we hoped to do, and asked if any of those present had been involved with mining or bushmeat poaching. Quite a few stood up and out of those prepared to talk to the camera, we selected three. The most harrowing for me was the second, Emanuel, a fresh-faced, slender young man of 22. Yes, he had killed people he said; he was five when he fled to Congo, and 12 when he first killed; he had used guns, knives and machetes – whatever was to hand – and didn’t know how many people he had killed. My heart went out to him as much as to those he had bereaved, because he was a victim too.
The use of child soldiers to commit atrocities is one of the most chilling practices. We are social beings and when young, follow the example of those who care for us. Children need role models, but if your role model is a murderer and heaps praise on you when you kill, you become trapped in a twisted parody of family life and then used as a tool to commit evil deeds. I noticed he was wearing a crucifix, and he explained he had become a Christian since returning to Rwanda. One can but hope that his new faith will help keep him on the right path.
The other two men, Samuel and Valence, were older and a little more guarded in their answers. They had been adults in 1994 and when Grant Denyer, the Network 7 presenter, asked about whether they had killed simply said that when one shoots in a war, one cannot tell if your bullet hits someone. As well as unknown numbers of people, all three also admitted to killing chimpanzees, elephant and, in Valence’s case, gorillas. I asked whether it was a male or female gorilla, and he replied it was a silverback he had killed and butchered for meat. “But Rwandans don’t eat gorillas,” I said, “Why did you do it?” “Because I was with Congolese soldiers who told me to.” And I suppose that if he had refused, he might not be here today….
He insisted that he regretted his crimes and was grateful for the chance of a new start in life, but all three were worried about how they would make a living when they re-entered normal society. As we pulled away and drove to Kigali, we were worried too – deep in thought about what we had heard and wondering whether their remorse was real and whether ‘normal society’ was ready to accept them, warts and all.
Read Ian’s previous post here.