First Person: Keeping memories of genocide victims alive
Immaculée Songa survived the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, but her husband and two daughters, as well as many relatives and friends, were killed. At the launch of a UN exhibition commemorating the horrific event and other notorious mass killings, she shared her story with UN News.
A toddler’s dress, and a five-year-old’s dress and sweater. Washed, cleaned, but still stained with blood.
These are the personal items that Immaculée Songa donated to “Stories of Survival and Remembrance - A call to action for genocide prevention,” currently on show at UN Headquarters, along with a photo album, showing her daughters, Raissa and Clarisse, laughing and smiling.
"The items in this exhibition are very important to me, because they remind us of the lives, the experiences of our people who are gone, who are no longer here. It's up to us to talk about them and tell their stories, and how their lives were taken away.
Six years ago, I returned to Rwanda to search for my family's remains. In a mass grave, I recognized the dresses my daughters wore at the last moment of their lives. The clothes were stuck to their bodies. They were all I had left of my children. So, I took them.
I first displayed my daughters’ clothes at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in the United States, in order to tell their story. Even though they were washed, you can see the blood stains, and you can imagine how they died.
Don't let my daughters be forgotten
We talk about millions of Rwandans, Tutsis killed during the genocide, and we seem to forget the individuals. This exhibition is here so that we remember the history of each individual.
If I could speak to my daughters, I would tell them that I have not forgotten them, I love them very much and I have spoken about them a lot, because they had an atrocious death that they did not deserve.
I am a mother who did not perish, a woman who cries a lot. I tell myself that God saved me for a reason, to give me the strength to talk about my daughters, and to make sure they are not forgotten.
The facts don’t lie
We have a responsibility to tell the world that injustice exists, that people are dying because of injustice, and that the genocide in Rwanda was planned and executed by very clever people who recruited militants and convinced them to kill. The responsibility to prevent genocides lies with governments, those in positions of influence, and the United Nations.
On our side, we also play our part. For example, we organize commemorations and education days to explain to the public what can happen if people are not careful. Because genocide can be prevented.
There are several phases of genocide, and the last phase is denial. Today, all over the world, people are denying genocides. They have been given platforms, they write books, and say that genocide did not happen.
The facts don't lie. So, if people see the facts, when they see my children's clothes, there is no mistake. People said children were killed, and now they see that it's true.
To ensure that the genocide is not repeated, we must engage everyone. We must go to the schools, and teach peace. When I talk to students, I can see them change. It makes a difference.
Before the genocide, 95 per cent of the population were not educated, and it was very easy to convince them to kill. I think that, if people have access to the education they need, they will advocate for peace.”
"Stories of Survival and Remembrance - A Call to Action for Genocide Prevention", is on display at UN Headquarters until 15 June.
The objects in the exhibition – clothes, toys, photographs, letters, recipes and other seemingly ordinary objects – survived the Holocaust, genocide and other atrocious crimes in Cambodia, Srebrenica (Bosnia Herzegovina) and Rwanda.
The exhibition is being held during the year of the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
It was inaugurated a few days before the celebration of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, in the UN General Assembly Hall on Friday, April 14.