The victim: 'These suspects get hot running water... We victims are poor'
Thursday 09 July 2009
Fifteen years ago, Beatha Uwazaninka spent 100 days as a fugitive in her own land while little by little, her family was slaughtered during the Rwandan genocide. Now she lives in the Midlands with her British husband and four-year-old daughter, but, she says: "You never leave the pain behind, it follows you everywhere."
The "it" is the dark legacy of the events she lived through as a 14-year-old in 1994, when Hutu extremists began a carefully planned project to exterminate the Tutsi minority. During four months of butchery, the lives of between 500,000 and 1.2 million people were taken in attacks led by a murderous militia, the Interahamwe.
During the genocide, Ms Uwazaninka's mother (and only remaining parent) was one of thousands forcibly drowned in the Nyabarongo river, bordering Uganda. Her extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins were murdered, some hacked to death in front of her eyes, while she escaped to live a hand-to-mouth existence, hiding in the homes of strangers and among the corpses piled in the streets of the capital, Kigali.
In some ways, Ms Uwazaninka is one of the more fortunate survivors. She dodged the machete-wielding militiamen – on one occasion by inches – and after the genocide found work in a shop. Seven years ago, she met and fell in love with James Smith, a British anti-genocide campaigner and a former doctor, and she moved to north Nottinghamshire to begin a new life away from the country where her sole surviving relative is a cousin.
But while love has brought her the chance to live in Britain, the horrors of 1994 are never far away. It is a sensation heightened by the knowledge that she shares her adopted country with at least four men suspected of organising the killing, one of whom allegedly oversaw the murder of Tutsis in a place where she lost six aunts.
Speaking with a strong voice that betrayed little of her grief, she told The Independent: "It is very difficult to explain to someone who has not been through it what 'genocide' means. In Africa, your extended family is everything. You rely on and are part of the families of your aunts and uncles. When that is gone, you have nothing, your main asset is gone.
"I was left with nothing. As an orphan, you have nowhere to go but also you have no one with whom you can share the pain.
"But we have in Britain these men who are accused of being organisers of the genocide. They have come here with their families, their children and made new lives in the First World. They have hot running water when those who survived what they are suspected of doing live in poverty, in the dark. That is hard to understand.
"A neighbour of my family had her six children and husband murdered in 1994. She was left with nothing. She went quite literally mad with grief. If there is evidence to prove that these men did what they are accused of, then they must be put before a court."
The Government took a significant step towards granting that wish on Tuesday when the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, announced the closure of a loophole which had prevented the prosecution in Britain of those accused of genocide and war crimes that took place before 2001. The extension of that date to 1991 means that events such as the Rwandan genocide and the Balkan wars will now fall under the remit of British courts.
Among the first cases likely to be investigated will be those of Vincent Bajinya, Celestin Ugirashebuja, Charles Munyaneza and Emmanuel Nteziryayo – the four Rwandan suspected "genocidaires" whose extradition was thrown out by the High Court in April over concerns that they would not receive a fair trial. They all deny any wrongdoing.
Among the allegations faced by Mr Nteziryayo, 51, from Manchester, is that he transported Interahamwe militiamen and grenades to Murambi Technical College, a half-finished school in southern Rwanda, where 45,000 Tutsi were later murdered. Among them were six young women – Ms Uwazaninka's aunts.
She said: "I still believe that these men should face trial in the country where they are accused of committing their crimes. If they are to be tried in Britain then that is good. They may be innocent. But if they are found guilty then they should serve their sentences in Rwanda. They should pay for any crime back where they belong."
Ms Uwazaninka, now 29, continues to cope with the legacy of a brutal past: "Before [the genocide], I told myself I would study to become a lawyer so I could look after my mother. Afterwards, there was no point in studying. Only now am I going back to studying. Even now, I live a day-to-day existence. I find it hard to plan more than a week or two ahead. But unlike many, I have recovered. I got married and I pray that my daughter grows up in a proper world. One where she can be safe."
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