Esther Mujawayo: The voice of a survivor

Four survivors of genocide spoke about the horrors they had witnessed and experienced – mass slaughter, rape and the loss of their loved ones – during the opening ceremony to the Global Convention for the Prevention of Genocide held at the Mont Royal Centre the evening of Oct. 11.
Esther Mujawayo survived the Rwandan genocide by bribing a soldier to spare her life and that of her newborn child. The other eight members of her family did not escape the slaughter.
Such was the reality for the majority of families during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. As Mujawayo explained, “Entire families were wiped out. Others were left with only children who now run households instead of attending school.”
During her speech, Mujawayo expressed her frustration toward the international community who failed to act during the genocide. “What is the point of coming here if I’m going to be politically correct – I’m not a politician – the truth needs to be heard,” said Mujawayo.
“Belgian dogs and cats were evacuated before Rwandans were. You say ‘We should have been there,’ well you still have the chance, and you are failing all over again.”
Mujawayo now runs a non-governmental organization called the Association for Widows of Genocide. Her NGO supports orphans, widows, orphan-headed households, handicapped and the elderly, who Mujawayo explains are still in dire need of international support.
“There are families who are still suffering. Many can’t work because of the handicaps they acquired during the slaughter [and] other families are run by children who have AIDS from being raped,” said Mujawayo.
“We still need your help: we need resources and programs to help these families. I hear it all the time, ‘We are sorry we failed Rwanda, we are so sorry,'” continued Mujawayo.
“I want to be nice and forgive, but I can’t because you failed us once, and now you are failing the survivors.”
Mujawayo ended by discussing how the youth can make a difference. “I truly have hope because there are a lot of young people here. I challenge you all to make a difference, it’s in your hands.”
Responding to Mujawayo’s criticism, retired Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire – who led the under-equipped and undermanned UN mission to Rwanda – shared her frustration at the lack of compassion and mobilization from the global community both during and after the genocide.
“I’m humbled to speak on the same platform as these magnificent people, still living the trauma of their experiences,” said a visibly moved Dallaire.
“The global community did little to stop it. We failed you, and our inaction makes us all guilty, each and everyone of us.”
Dallaire cited the importance of instilling a sense of responsibility in younger generations, which for him was the goal of this conference.
“My personal aim in this is to create dynamics in the under-thirty gang, to make them conscious of the significance of some of the tragedies of humanity, and to make them aware they can actually influence the situation and make a huge difference,” said Dallaire.
“They need to pick up the mantra and run with it; I think [young people] are far more attuned to global scenarios than the other generations. Young people can change the nature of the world, they have unlimited power. The future for you guys is five years down the road, shape it, and own it, if only because you can.”

For more information on Esther Mujawayo’s NGO, visit

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