rwanda-culture

By Tafi Mhaka

Before Jesus returns to this cesspool of immorality man has built can the Lord give Godlieve Mukasarasi the spiritual fortitude to fight off the terror awoken by ghosts from a violent past?

Can Jesus help her tame the malevolent spirits that breathe life into the hearts of evil men?

Can the dear Lord help fallen angels find their wings in a hellish jungle of hate, fear and suspicion?

Lord knows Godlieve Mukasarasi needs all the heavenly and earthly help she can muster: The poor woman has seen it all. Emmanuel Rudasingwa – her husband – and Angelique, her daughter, were, along with nine other people, gunned down in 1996 – and solemnly buried on Christmas day.

As a mere villager of very little means Mukasarasi had to lean heavily on her christian faith in her time of need.

Mukasarasi was born in 1959 in Gitarama, Muhanga District in Rwanda, where she went on to work as a social worker.

Inspired by a number of strong-willed Rwandan woman of the Christian faith who turned to laughter and public confessions as a form of post traumatic disorder therapy – she founded Sevota, a peace building organisation dedicated to helping women and orphans, in 1994, in a small rural village in Kamonyi District.

“Women’s hearts are broken due to a combination of 3 things: genocide, rape, and AIDS. Women will see the benefit of coming to spaces of free dialogue, which are organised for self-­healing, to fight against the violence they’ve endured,” says Mukasarasi.

She has had to fight her demons as well and summon the strength to hold it all together.

“Through the grace of prayer. My respect for God, and those among his creatures who have no voice, gives me the strength and energy to go on, despite the intense hardship”.

It was through Sevota that Mukasarasi met witnesses JJ, NN, and OO: Three women brutally raped by Hutu extremists at the behest of Jean-Paul Akayesu – the former mayor of Taba Commune in Rwanda.

Akeyesu stood trial for 15 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, including rape during the Rwandan Genocide and violations of the Geneva Convention

He was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity – which included extermination, murder, torture rape, and other inhumane acts – on 2 September 1998.

He received a life sentence for each of the nine counts he was deemed guilty of.

Akayesu was the first man in history to be convicted of rape as a crime against humanity and genocide.

He is serving his life sentence in a Mali prison.

His role in the Rwandan genocide – and more pointedly – the sexual assaults forced upon JJ, NN and OO, gave rise to The Uncondemned, a documentary film about the first time lawyers prosecuted rape as a crime against humanity.

The Uncondemned documents how a group of lawyers struggled to prosecute rape as a crime against humanity; it further explores the lives of three highly courageous women – victims of rape and assault – who fearlessly stepped up to share their painful stories with the world.

Experiences that achingly remind us of the woeful horrors being experienced by children and women detained in Boko Haram’s self-proclaimed caliphate in northeastern Nigeria.

There thousands of young women and school children abducted from villages and schools are tortured and raped and forcibly married off to Boko Haram jihadists.

After watching the film for the first time Witness NN couldn’t suppress the somber memories which haunt her or ignore the deep trauma that bedevils her.

“I remembered my awful experiences and the constant pain I suffered during the genocide. I am accepting myself now so I can lead a positive life in spite of all that.”

Witness JJ is not only proud of her contribution to the film but her participation in a struggle many women and victims of war alike can identify with.

“It made me think about my courage, my bravery, my valour and my dignity in having contributed to justice, to the law, and to the fight against impunity. I participated in the struggle to end crimes against humanity.”

Witness OO had in the beginning of her valiant self-repairing journey of hope undervalued the impact she and her fellow witnesses would have on the international criminal justice system – and rape.

“Before, I thought it was an ordinary thing—I didn’t know what it meant, what we did. Now, I can think that I contributed to the international tribunal’s recognition of the truth regarding rape. I think of my courage and heroism. The film created a space for me to express myself, to unveil myself and tell the truth.”

A group of lawyers – Pierre Prosper – a Los Angeles District Attorney, Patricia Sellers – a former Philadelphia public defender, Binaifer Nowrojee, a human rights activist working on her PhD thesis, Sara Darehshori – a lawyer about to start her first job, and Lisa Pruitt – a PhD student and a victim of a sexual assault herself – took on the case against Akayesu.

Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel co-directed the documentary film.

Mitchell and Louvel jointly produced another acclaimed film: “Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?” This documentary won the national Edward R. Murrow 2013 for Best TV Documentary as well as a Gracie Award for Best Investigative Feature, CINE Special Jury Award for Best Investigative Documentary, and CINE Golden Eagle, among other awards.

Talking to Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda – the FDLR militia – the largely Hutu militia that carried out the Rwandan genocide was no mean task for Mitchell. The FDLR, which had relocated to East Kivu in neighbouring DR Congo – was averse to granting Americans interviews.

“I had no contacts in DRC, so building that network, finding the right people to help me make the request, was critical. Even once I had it in place, I was cautioned that they wouldn’t talk, or that if they did, it would be very dangerous to travel to do the interview. Going three and a half days into the mountains, no way to contact the outside world, with multiple militias actively in combat, was really crossing our fingers and hoping it all turned out alright.”

Michelle did attempt to interview Akayesu but that proved to be rather problematic as a result of the volatile security situation in central Africa.

“Akayesu is in prison in Mali. At the time, several veteran Western reporters were killed in Mali because of the security situation. As a result, we couldn’t get insured to go”.

Co-director Nick Louvel hopes the film can shift perceptions and force people to question their beliefs around rape as a weapon of war.

“There is still a misperception that systematic rape in time of war is simply the nature of man that it is inevitable, and that attempting to curb it is a hopeless endeavour. We are in a battle against cynicism. I hope this film will make a convincing case that these beliefs are in large part unfounded, and they cannot be used as a justification for apathy.”

The Uncondemned has been nominated for an award at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2016. The festival provides a platform to filmmakers whose works focus on human rights issue.

“Through our Human Rights Watch Film Festival we bear witness to human rights violations and create a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference. The film festival brings to life human rights abuses through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathise and demand justice for all people”.

This is just the platform Mukasarasi and her three fallen angels deserve.

From Bosnia to Rwanda to Nigeria their narratives have significant universal appeal.

They cut across races and nations.

They shake and question our beliefs in the supernatural.

They beg of God to help the fallen angels of Rwanda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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