This is why, at the end of the Rwandan genocide, when two million Hutus so suddenly rose as one within a few days in the early summer of 1994 to begin their exodus, we understood that they were fleeing from more than the weapons and vengeance of the RPF troops. Without thinking it through clearly, we sensed that a psychological force much greater then the simple survival instinct was at work to impel that immense throng so powerfully towards Congo – abandoning houses, properties, professions, habits, all without hesitation or a backward glance.
Two years later those families returned from the refugee camps to their plots of land still bearing their collective guilt. Their sense of shame is haunted today by the dread of suspicion, punishment, and revenge, and it mingles with the Tutsis’ traumatic anguish and infects the atmosphere, aptly described by Sylvie Umubyeyi: “There are those who fear the very hills where they should be working on their lands. There are those who fear encountering Hutus on the road. There are Hutus who saved Tutsis but who no longer dare go home to their villages, for fear that no one will believe them. There are people who fear visitors, or the night. There are innocent faces that frighten others and fear they are frightening others, as if they were criminals. There is the fear of threats, the panic of memories.”
After a genocide, the anguish and dread have an agonizing persistence. The silence on the Rwandan hills is indescribable and cannot be compared with the usual mutism in the aftermath of war. Perhaps Cambodia offers a recent parallel. Tutsi survivors manage to surmount this silence only among themselves. But within the community of killers, innocent or guilty, each person plays the role of either a mute or an amnesiac.
From A time for machetes. The killers speak. by Jean Hatzfeld