Interview of Gloriosa Uwimpuhwe, Rwandan Genocide Survivor

Office of the Press Secretary
(Kampala, Uganda)

For Immediate ReleaseMarch 25, 1998


Q Can you explain for us what it was like for you to meet thePresident?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: First of all, I did mention how I was happy for meetingwith the President. I have been looking forward to meeting him, but Ithought it would be something more official like where he would sit infront of us and have a speech and answer questions and so on. But then itwas more like a family, like friends sitting in a sitting room and talkingabout the news, the stories, asking any questions, and so on. So I wasimpressed, and I was impressed by the feeling that would show on his facewhen we were trying to talk about our stories.

He again showed me that -- he behaved as a real, real human being whofelt what people were saying, even though he did not see it himself.

Q What do you think will come of this? How can the President helpthe people of Rwanda and the victims of the genocide rebuild their lives?

A I feel that on two levels -- first of all, on the internationallevel, I think and I hope he's going to take the message that he got fromthe country in what we said and what he could understand out of what wesaid, and he's going to send it to -- to share it with the rest of theworld, which is good information for the world to start acting in anappropriate way. But also for the Rwandans, it brings us more hope again.It's the first American President that I saw in my country. And it's notonly me -- even people who are older than me -- it's the first one who cameto Rwanda.

It's not late that he came this time, and I feel that, as otherRwandans, we feel that after his visit we're going to sit again, discussour problem, discuss our history and so on, but in a way that we are moreconfident because we know whatever we find out will be the appropriateoption, will share it with him and have strategies for the whole world --not only for the country, but the whole world -- we review, revise thestrategies and adapt them to what has seen.

Q Could you speak more about how he reacted to the awful storiesthat he heard? What did he say?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: The reaction I'm talking about is difficult to elicitbecause it's how he behaved. You could read it on his face. So that'sdifficult to interpret for me. But also, the questions he asked us showedthat he really -- he was concerned. He's concerned about what happened,and he wants to take one's place and feel what he felt and wonders what hewould have done -- like when he asked of me whether I lived with the ladywho brought my parents to the place they were killed, and when he asked ofme that, I had mentioned the woman, but he -- I think that's the part thatbrought his emotions, because he asked if we still neighbors, and he askedhow we happened to talk to her and so on. So I felt like he's puttinghimself in my place and trying to understand what I have gone through. The same thing happened when he was asking questions to other peoplewho talked about their stories.

Q How did you answer him when he asked that?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: I told him what happened, first of all, about thelocation of -- how we knew what we did. I talked about how we met afterthe war. And we invited her home and she came. We discussed and we askedher about our parents because we didn't know, we didn't bury them, so wedon't know even now, I don't know even whether they were killed or not. Idon't see them so they were killed. I didn't bury them. I didn't seetheir bodies.

So when we asked the lady we wanted to find out what happened, and shetold us the story, but when she got to the point where she was involved,she tried to trick it in a certain way that doesn't make her much involved.But then the conclusion, as I told His Excellency, is that we said that wedon't want to see her, that lady, I mean to talk to her, to interact withher because she did not tell us the whole truth. We are going to live asneighbors, but she should never come home again, we will never go to herhouse. Now none of us is going to harass her or to kill her or to attackher or whatever, but it's finished with our relations with her.

Q Do you remain bitter that the United States did not act? Are youbitter that the United States did not act to do something to prevent this?

Q Are you upset that the United States didn't act to help Rwanda?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: I am not as such, because one of the responsibilitiescomes back to us. Like there are Peace Corps volunteers in this countryand they worked with them. We're talking about the events and all what wasgoing on, but we as the local population, not we as the political leaders.And there are two messages being sent to the international communities, themessage from the leaders and another message from the population. So for aforeigner, how can he decide on which side to take, especially when he doesnot have enough information on that?

So I'm not angry as such. But again, now I feel sad when I see thatsome people from the international community are not reacting -- and nowthey are informed, many people are informed of what happened, and there arekillings still going on in the country. But the international community isnot reacting against that. And that's what makes us as Rwandans less happywith press, with journalists, and so on, because we ask ourselves if wetell people who listen and understand -- we think we tell people who willlisten with the pens -- see what I mean? They listen with their pens andwrite, but they don't get any message to react against the bad side of it,or to congratulate the positive things.

Q What would you like to see happen? How would you like to see theinternational community get involved?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: For example, I would like to see the leaders ofinternational communities, like the presidents, like ministers, I'd like tohear their contribution to the Rwandan program of reconciliation. And this-- this is what President Clinton did by talking with us, by expressinghimself, by saying about the leadership and what he thinks about that. Ifyou could hear from different people -- we want to have the contributionnot only in giving money or giving vehicles, or whatever, but -- and evennecessarily by visiting -- but say what they think should be theappropriate option so that we can have different options and try to discussthem and start to analyze them and take the appropriate one.

Q Did the President talk about the way the United States hadresponded and whether he felt any regret for that?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes. I was glad to hear that at the beginning when hegave his speech, at the beginning, he said that the internationalcommunity, including the States, did not react to prevent the genocidewhich was almost sin that it's going to happen. So I was glad to hearthat, that's how he started.

Q Did he say he was sorry?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes, and he said that he not only is sorry, but he'slooking froward to taking positive options for the future.

Q Are you talking about the private meeting you had with him, orhis speech?


Q Your private meeting?


Q And he said, I'm sorry?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: I don't remember exactly the words he used, but, yes.

Q What's your profession?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Catholic Relief Service, and I work as a productmanager for the peace-building program.

Q And how old are you?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Thirty-one.

Q Were you in Rwanda throughout the genocide, the period of thegenocide?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes, I was.

Q And were you here in the capital city, or were you out -- MS. UWIMPUHWE: Here in Kigali.

Q And you lost both parents?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Oh, yes. And two sisters, two brothers, and a child wehad adopted, and my grandmother's family, which was 25 people in the house.

Q How many brothers and sisters did you have before?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: We were eight.

Q And now?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: And now we are four. But we had adopted one child; healso died -- as the ninth child in the family. And now I have adopted twoother orphans, so again we are six.

Q How did you escape? What is your recollection?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: That's a difficult question to answer because I don'tknow how I escaped. But I'll tell you the story of what happened. Sincewe had been attacked in February '94, we knew that our family was one ofthe targets in April '94. So we left the house on the 7th of April in themorning. When we left, I decided that I should join other Tutsis because Ididn't want someone to kill me -- to kill someone he knows and to take thehead or the body and show it to all the people that they have killed suchand such. So I wanted to be killed in a big group so that no one wouldknow whether they killed me or not. And I asked my parents to do the same,but they couldn't, they were not able to. So they went to the other side,and that's where everything happened to them.

The place I was hiding in was attacked. I was hiding under the bed.Fortunately they didn't see me.

Q Was this your family's home where you were -- I'm sorry.

MS. UWIMPUHWE: I was under the bed and no one among those who attackedsaw me. So for 45 minutes they were looting the house. So when theyfinished and then they went away, I left the house and went to a secondone. Those are neighbors. When I went to the second one they chased meaway. They said that they don't want to see me in their house. I ran. Iwent to the third one, they said the same thing. I ran again. So I wentto a fourth one where the owner was from Zaire, was Zairian, currentCongolese -- and he's the one who accepted me in his house.

I spent there -- I can't remember, I know it's between two or threedays. But I don't remember because the nights and the days were the same.I was hiding under a chair covered with clothes so I couldn't see if it'sday -- between the day or the night. I don't remember exactly how manydays I spent there. It's between two and three.

Then he took Red Cross vehicle, because he was a driver, an employeeof the Belgian Red Cross -- and took me to the Belgian Red Cross offices,the Red Cross, whose staff had left. So I joined other people who werehiding at the Red Cross buildings, and that's where I spent the whole timeuntil July 4th.

Q So, four months --

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Almost four months.

Q How did your family know that they were on the list?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: My father had been put in jail in 1990, in November,because he was said to be one of the accomplices of the RPA troops whichhad attacked in October -- a month before. So we knew that, and we hadbeen harassed all along.

Q So your father was a politician or was a businessman?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: He was a businessman, but who would react againstanything that he finds wrong. He would talk about it in his bar, he wouldtalk about it to all of us, even the youngest child. He would talk aboutit everywhere and he was kind of known by many people as someone who wantsjustice, and who talks about everything that he sees as abnormal.

Q Do you feel safe with the American dollars, the millions that arecoming to help prevent genocide?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: At a certain stage, yes. But I work for the CatholicRelief Services, so I'm among the implementers of those problems. And I'mglad that our problem is among the best, I would say, because there arepeople, many consultants and many people from other interviews here, cometo see us in our team -- it's a team of two people -- and they come todiscuss with us on which option to take or which direction to take.

Q What do you do in these projects?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: As I told you, I was a product manager for thepeace-building program, so what we do is to discuss with the communitymembers and some leaders, like the Catholic Church leaders, other localleaders, to discuss on what steps can be taken towards bringing back peacein Rwanda. And after that, we design projects from that, we raise funds,and then we implement the projects with the same people we have talked to.

But the main thing we're doing now in those projects is to discuss onthe Rwandan history, to discuss on the word reconciliation, which has twomeanings -- a different meaning in Kinyarwanda (the language). InKinyarwanda, most of the time reconciliation would mean taking two partsand offering to bring them together, where people would shake their hands-- which is not what we would like to have. So we try to discuss theoption of reconciliation being where someone reconciles with himself, firstof all, someone tries to be the most just possible. And then to be themost just possible towards his neighbor, whoever he is. And then to thewhole society. But without bringing two parties that are known and tryingto bring them together.

Q How do you get along with the neighbors that wouldn'tlet you into their homes that night, the ones that wouldn't admit you,would not let you into their homes that night -- how do you get along withthem now? Do you have any contact with them?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes, they are still neighbors, because I went back to ahouse that my father has built, for the first one has been destroyed -- butwe had two. So they are still my neighbors and, it's difficult, but what Itry to do is to avoid varied contacts with them. So it's no problem if Ipass by their house, and I greet them, it's fine. But I try to limit that,because every time I get to their houses, or every time I see one of them Ifeel sad again, because I wonder if my parents have been killed or not, andwhere they have been killed. And I feel that that person knows whathappened.

Q And how was it you got separated from your parents? Where didyour parents go?

MS. UWIMPUHWE: It's just I took the left, they took the right. Theywent to neighbors, I went to other neighbors on different sides. Then thesoldiers came immediately, so we could not see each other again.

Q Did you know the Zairian man who did give you refuge? Was he afriend of yours beforehand, or did you know --

MS. UWIMPUHWE: He was just a neighbor. We knew each other.

Q Were the neighbors who wouldn't let you in Hutus?


Q Thank you very much.

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