THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 25, 1998
INTERVIEW OF GLORIOSA UWIMPUHWE, GENOCIDE SURVIVOR
Q Can you explain for us what it was like for you to meet the President?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: First of all, I did mention how I was happy for meeting with the President. I have been looking forward to meeting him, but I thought it would be something more official like where he would sit in front of us and have a speech and answer questions and so on. But then it was more like a family, like friends sitting in a sitting room and talking about the news, the stories, asking any questions, and so on. So I was impressed, and I was impressed by the feeling that would show on his face when we were trying to talk about our stories.
He again showed me that -- he behaved as a real, real human being who felt 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 help the people of Rwanda and the victims of the genocide rebuild their lives?
A I feel that on two levels -- first of all, on the international level, I think and I hope he's going to take the message that he got from the country in what we said and what he could understand out of what we said, and he's going to send it to -- to share it with the rest of the world, which is good information for the world to start acting in an appropriate 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 not only me -- even people who are older than me -- it's the first one who came to Rwanda.
It's not late that he came this time, and I feel that, as other Rwandans, we feel that after his visit we're going to sit again, discuss our problem, discuss our history and so on, but in a way that we are more confident because we know whatever we find out will be the appropriate option, will share it with him and have strategies for the whole world -- not only for the country, but the whole world -- we review, revise the strategies and adapt them to what has seen.
Q Could you speak more about how he reacted to the awful stories that he heard? What did he say?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: The reaction I'm talking about is difficult to elicit because it's how he behaved. You could read it on his face. So that's difficult to interpret for me. But also, the questions he asked us showed that 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 he would have done -- like when he asked of me whether I lived with the lady who brought my parents to the place they were killed, and when he asked of me that, I had mentioned the woman, but he -- I think that's the part that brought his emotions, because he asked if we still neighbors, and he asked how we happened to talk to her and so on. So I felt like he's putting himself in my place and trying to understand what I have gone through. The same thing happened when he was asking questions to other people who 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 the location of -- how we knew what we did. I talked about how we met after the war. And we invited her home and she came. We discussed and we asked her about our parents because we didn't know, we didn't bury them, so we don't know even now, I don't know even whether they were killed or not. I don't see them so they were killed. I didn't bury them. I didn't see their bodies.
So when we asked the lady we wanted to find out what happened, and she told 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 we don't want to see her, that lady, I mean to talk to her, to interact with her because she did not tell us the whole truth. We are going to live as neighbors, but she should never come home again, we will never go to her house. Now none of us is going to harass her or to kill her or to attack her or whatever, but it's finished with our relations with her.
Q Do you remain bitter that the United States did not act? Are you bitter 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 responsibilities comes back to us. Like there are Peace Corps volunteers in this country and they worked with them. We're talking about the events and all what was going on, but we as the local population, not we as the political leaders. And there are two messages being sent to the international communities, the message from the leaders and another message from the population. So for a foreigner, how can he decide on which side to take, especially when he does not have enough information on that?
So I'm not angry as such. But again, now I feel sad when I see that some people from the international community are not reacting -- and now they are informed, many people are informed of what happened, and there are killings still going on in the country. But the international community is not reacting against that. And that's what makes us as Rwandans less happy with press, with journalists, and so on, because we ask ourselves if we tell people who listen and understand -- we think we tell people who will listen with the pens -- see what I mean? They listen with their pens and write, 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 the international community get involved?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: For example, I would like to see the leaders of international communities, like the presidents, like ministers, I'd like to hear their contribution to the Rwandan program of reconciliation. And this -- this is what President Clinton did by talking with us, by expressing himself, by saying about the leadership and what he thinks about that. If you could hear from different people -- we want to have the contribution not only in giving money or giving vehicles, or whatever, but -- and even necessarily by visiting -- but say what they think should be the appropriate option so that we can have different options and try to discuss them and start to analyze them and take the appropriate one.
Q Did the President talk about the way the United States had responded and whether he felt any regret for that?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes. I was glad to hear that at the beginning when he gave his speech, at the beginning, he said that the international community, including the States, did not react to prevent the genocide which was almost sin that it's going to happen. So I was glad to hear that, 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's looking froward to taking positive options for the future.
Q Are you talking about the private meeting you had with him, or his speech?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes.
Q Your private meeting?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes.
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 product manager 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 the genocide?
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 we had 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; he also died -- as the ninth child in the family. And now I have adopted two other 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't know how I escaped. But I'll tell you the story of what happened. Since we had been attacked in February '94, we knew that our family was one of the targets in April '94. So we left the house on the 7th of April in the morning. When we left, I decided that I should join other Tutsis because I didn't want someone to kill me -- to kill someone he knows and to take the head or the body and show it to all the people that they have killed such and such. So I wanted to be killed in a big group so that no one would know 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 attacked saw me. So for 45 minutes they were looting the house. So when they finished and then they went away, I left the house and went to a second one. Those are neighbors. When I went to the second one they chased me away. They said that they don't want to see me in their house. I ran. I went to the third one, they said the same thing. I ran again. So I went to a fourth one where the owner was from Zaire, was Zairian, current Congolese -- 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 three days. 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's day -- between the day or the night. I don't remember exactly how many days I spent there. It's between two and three.
Then he took Red Cross vehicle, because he was a driver, an employee of 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 were hiding at the Red Cross buildings, and that's where I spent the whole time until 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 which had attacked in October -- a month before. So we knew that, and we had been harassed all along.
Q So your father was a politician or was a businessman?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: He was a businessman, but who would react against anything that he finds wrong. He would talk about it in his bar, he would talk about it to all of us, even the youngest child. He would talk about it everywhere and he was kind of known by many people as someone who wants justice, and who talks about everything that he sees as abnormal.
Q Do you feel safe with the American dollars, the millions that are coming to help prevent genocide?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: At a certain stage, yes. But I work for the Catholic Relief Services, so I'm among the implementers of those problems. And I'm glad that our problem is among the best, I would say, because there are people, many consultants and many people from other interviews here, come to see us in our team -- it's a team of two people -- and they come to discuss 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 the peace-building program, so what we do is to discuss with the community members and some leaders, like the Catholic Church leaders, other local leaders, to discuss on what steps can be taken towards bringing back peace in 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 on the Rwandan history, to discuss on the word reconciliation, which has two meanings -- a different meaning in Kinyarwanda (the language). In Kinyarwanda, most of the time reconciliation would mean taking two parts and 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 the option of reconciliation being where someone reconciles with himself, first of all, someone tries to be the most just possible. And then to be the most just possible towards his neighbor, whoever he is. And then to the whole society. But without bringing two parties that are known and trying to bring them together.
Q How do you get along with the neighbors that wouldn't let 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 with them now? Do you have any contact with them?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes, they are still neighbors, because I went back to a house that my father has built, for the first one has been destroyed -- but we had two. So they are still my neighbors and, it's difficult, but what I try to do is to avoid varied contacts with them. So it's no problem if I pass 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 I feel sad again, because I wonder if my parents have been killed or not, and where they have been killed. And I feel that that person knows what happened.
Q And how was it you got separated from your parents? Where did your parents go?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: It's just I took the left, they took the right. They went to neighbors, I went to other neighbors on different sides. Then the soldiers came immediately, so we could not see each other again.
Q Did you know the Zairian man who did give you refuge? Was he a friend 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?
MS. UWIMPUHWE: Yes.
Q Thank you very much.