Rwanda genocide survivor shares stories of healing

Friday, April 11, 2014 | 10:07 p.m. CDT; updated 8:44 a.m. CDT, Saturday, April 12, 2014
Emmanuel Habimana, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, spoke to members of the Columbia community about his experiences during the genocide and the healing process 20 years later. Habimana's presentation, "Healing: Rwanda 20 Years Later," was hosted by the Afro-Romance Institute.

COLUMBIA — Emmanuel Habimana's father was murdered on April 7, 1994. His mother was killed four days later. His siblings were taken away by Hutu extremists.

Habimana fled, but the killers found him.


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They asked who he was and where he was from. He lied and told them he was from the North in an area predominately inhabited by the Hutu.

The killers believed him, but they were suspicious. They took him along for awhile, always asking if he was telling the truth, if he was really from the North, if he was really Hutu.

Eventually, the killers released Habimana and told the young boy to go his own way.

He fled again, this time into the Congo.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Habimana presented his story of survival and healing to an audience in MU's Memorial Student Union. About 60 to 70 people attended the event.

When speaking about something like genocide, he said, the words are difficult to find, even in his native language.

In 1994, Hutu extremists killed about 800,000 men, women and children. The majority belonged to an ethnic group known as the Tutsi, but thousands of Hutu were also murdered for opposing the campaign, according to the United Human Rights Council.

Habimana grew up in Kigali, Rwanda, near the Nyabarongo River. He realized something was wrong at an early age.

The Tutsi population was considered snakes and cockroaches, he said. Neighbors would throw rocks at their house, and Hutu schoolchildren would sing songs of hate.

Then, one day in April, Habimana fed some cows and led them down to the river. He found bodies floating in the water — dead Tutsis.

These images are his earliest recollections of the genocide.

Before his parents were murdered, Habimana and his family fled their village and hid in nearby sugarcane fields. Their house, their property and everything else was destroyed, he said.

They moved to town, seeking shelter in a church with other Tutsi families.

One day there was an explosion outside. "You could sense that danger was coming," he said.

Hutu extremists came and began to shoot people, Habimana said. His father was taken — murdered.

His mother and siblings were taken away as well.

He ran, escaped and survived.

Habimana left the Congo in 1995, returned to Rwanda and was reunited with a sister.

He eventually began working as a youth activist, collaborating with peers and assisting other orphans of the genocide, according to his filmmaker bio.

In 2010, he began co-directing the documentary Komora: to heal.

Komora: to heal Official Trailer from Natalia Ledford on Vimeo.

Habimana has also finished two years at Kigali Independent University, where he wants to focus on humanitarian law and genocide studies.

"My goal is to be the best I can be," he said after his talk.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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