Genocide’s Legacy Lingers In Alberta

Genocide's legacy lingers in Alberta

By Andrew Hanon
The Calgary Sun, May 12, 2010

Sixteen years after its horrific peak, the Rwandan genocide is still claiming victims.

Some are here in Alberta, like Charlotte Umutesi, a 35-year-old who has fought since 2005 for permanent residency.

In 1994, she was repeatedly raped by the gang who butchered members of her family. Eleven years later, she testified against the ringleader during Rwandas reconciliation process, and was attacked again.

She fled to relatives in Canada. According to the people fighting on her behalf, she confused a few dates while explaining her case to a refugee adjudicator and was deemed unbelievable.

Her appeals were rejected at every level, and now she faces deportation back to the country where the man who killed her parents and common-law husband has allegedly sworn to track her down.

Its a very difficult situation, says Grace Mukasekuru, who lost her parents and six of her siblings in the genocide and came to Canada in 1995 at the age of 14.

Mukasekuru, who became a Canadian citizen, says the problem for immigration officials is both victims and perpetrators of the violence in Rwanda have fled to safe havens like Canada.

Theres no easy way to tell whos who, she explains. Everyone claims to be a victim. There were perpetrators living among the victims in the refugee camps. We know there are people here who should be deported, and that can work against some people who are innocent victims.

She said members of both the Tutsi and Hutu tribes speak the same language, their traditions are similar and they dont even live in separate regions of the country.

Umutesi is so terrified by the prospect of being sent back, shes slipped into depression and hardly speaks. Her aunt, teacher Nathalie Uwantege, says her niece suffers nightmares and barely eats.

Mukusekuru still bears the scars of what she witnessed during those 90 days of hell, when her Hutu neighbours descended on their Tutsi countrymen with machetes, killing 700,000 to one million in an orgy of bloodshed.

Her nightmares might be gone, but it will always haunt her and her surviving family.

She thinks of her older sister, who immigrated to Canada before the genocide. She could only watch the news, frantic with worry over what was happening to her family.

She couldnt find out if we survived or not. She had to wait for months to find out what happened to us, Mukasekuru says.

She still bears that pain.

The task of identifying the dead took years. Mukusekuru only got to bury her fathers remains in 2009.

The medical lab assistant has been back to Rwanda several times in the past few years and says the changes have been remarkable.

They are moving forward. There is reconciliation.

But, she adds, theres still work to do. There are still Hutu extremists who pose a threat to Tutsis who testified against them.

There were a number of moderate Hutus who never participated in the genocide to begin with. Mukasekuru was hidden three times by moderate Hutus, who saved her life.

Pausing, she adds, its interesting. Its getting better every year. The country is healing.

Theres more bitterness and heartache among the people who left than among those who stayed.