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A Reflection on Healing and Resilience 30 Years After the Genocide in Rwanda

Amiel Nubaha

Executive Director Visits Rwanda Genocide Memorial. Image sourced from UN Women via Flickr.

In 2009, at the age of 14, my family embarked on a transformative journey from Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe to Australia through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Resettlement Program. The day we left the camp remains etched in my memory as a blend of joyous anticipation and emotional goodbyes as we bade farewell to the camp's familiar yet challenging environment. Tears of both joy and sadness flowed freely, marking the beginning of a new chapter filled with hope and uncertainty.

The refugee camp – nestled in Southeast Zimbabwe – was not just a temporary shelter, but a microcosm of dreams and aspirations for refugees. We fantasised about the United States of America, Australia and Canada because they meant more than distant lands – they symbolised a promise of new beginnings, were beacons of hope, places to call home and represented havens of opportunity in the face of adversity. For children of Rwandan background, our identity was intricately intertwined with the shadows of our shared traumatic past — the genocide. From a young age, I grappled with the harsh realities of hate and prejudice, as well as with feelings of alienation, betrayal and neglect. Like many others, I was confronted with disturbing questions and theories about my ethnic background that sought to pigeonhole children into historical divides. It is through this manner, amongst many others, that the tragic echoes of Rwanda's past continue to reverberate through generations, shaping narratives and perceptions that hinder our community’s journey toward healing and reconciliation.

Thirty years ago, life took on a different meaning for Rwandans. The country was plunged into an unimaginable cycle of violence following the killing of the then Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana along with his counterpart, President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira on the 6th of April in 1994. Their death sparked a wave of bloodshed and devastation within Rwanda and the neighbouring countries. Over a period of 100 days, more than one million Rwandans were mercilessly killed by the Interahamwe militia in what has come to be known as the Genocide Against the Tutsi. Such atrocities were followed by unimaginable violence and massacres allegedly perpetrated by the then rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Army. 

Given the complexity of Rwanda’s tragic past and its lasting impact on global narratives and perspectives, I deeply feel for all victims and silenced voices. I pay tribute to all Rwandans who lost their lives, honour the resilience of the survivors and hope that Australia will continue to provide an opportunity for victims to heal and share their experiences.   

As I reflect on our collective journey of healing and remembrance, I am reminded of the profound impact of brave individuals, including Australian peacekeepers who bore witness to the atrocities in Rwanda. Their dedication and courage amidst harrowing circumstances, such as the Kibeho Massacre following the Genocide against the Tutsi, exemplifies the highest ideals of service and sacrifice.  This has consequently forged enduring bonds in our shared journey for healing and I am incredibly grateful for their sacrifice and noble service to Rwanda. 

Earlier this year I had the profound privilege of uniting with fellow Australians of Rwandan background, alongside other Australians and friends of Rwanda at the 30th Anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda. This significant event took place on the 20th of April 2024 at the Australian Parliament House in Canberra. The gathering brought together a diverse group, including Members of Parliament, First Nation peoples, academics, former peacekeepers and participants from nations such as the United States, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. This commemoration incited significant collective reflection, self-introspection and progression in the ongoing healing journey for all those affected by the Rwandan tragedy. By coming together and sharing stories at events like this, we create vital spaces to honour the resilience of survivors and allow them to share their experiences. Through this collective act of sharing and acknowledging each person’s journey, we forge bonds rooted in compassion and understanding which are critical to building a community free from hatred.   

During my time in Canberra, I was also moved by the unwavering courage displayed by the Rwandan people. As a young and emerging leader, it was encouraging to witness the support of international friends who continue to contribute significantly to the ongoing national healing and reconciliation efforts in Rwanda. Over the past thirty years, Rwanda has achieved commendable progress and is recognised as a model of sustainable growth and resilience. While this progress is something that every Australian of Rwandan descent should take immense pride in, against this background, it's disheartening to witness concerns about Rwanda's human rights record, restricted freedom of the press, and the alleged politicisation of the genocide. This troubling situation in Rwanda urgently calls for the government and relevant stakeholders to listen deeply to both the critics and silenced voices within Rwanda and abroad. 

One notable moment during our 30th commemoration in Canberra was the realisation of the profound impact the genocide had and still has on individuals' health and wellbeing in Australia. Through story sharing we learned that contrary to prevailing belief that the implications and pain associated with the Rwandan tragedy are limited to Australians of Rwandan descent, the pain extends to all people worldwide who carry the scars of such atrocities. I was particularly moved by the story of a former Australian peacekeeper who continues to grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after what he experienced while serving in Rwanda. For me, this served as a reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by survivors and peacekeepers alike.

The vulnerable Rwandan community in Australia is crying for help and there are many ways that Australia could assist to support the community’s healing journey. Providing avenues for trauma recovery, tailored mental health support and opportunities for storytelling and healing are crucial steps in this journey. Australians can play a vital role in creating safe spaces for all survivors to share their stories, find solace and access the support they need to rebuild their lives in Australia. This may include a further commitment to resist radicalisation and genocidal ideologies through advocating for justice, supporting initiatives that promote reconciliation, investing in young people and ensuring that all survivors receive the care and recognition they deserve. By engaging with our vulnerable community, I believe that Australia can draw valuable lessons from the past and continue to model the cause of peace and justice in a world that is grappling with immense pain and injustice.

For those of us who are Australians of Rwandan background, while this commemoration period is testing and can bring forth deep-seated pain and memories of unimaginable suffering and loss, may we give forgiveness a chance. To forgive is not to erase or deny the pain of the past but instead release ourselves from the chains of resentment and open our hearts to healing and transformation in our beautiful country we now call home — Australia. Forgiveness is a courageous choice — a choice to break free from the cycle of hurt and retaliation; a choice to extend compassion to ourselves and others; and a choice to reclaim our inner peace and freedom. Through forgiveness, we break free from the chains of victimhood and emerge as agents of positive change. 

In hindsight, particularly through my work as a nationally accredited mediator and peacebuilder, I have learnt that choosing forgiveness is neither a sign of weakness nor an abandonment of our pursuit for justice. Rather, it is a testament to our resilience and determination to break free from the chains of historical trauma. It empowers me to cultivate a compassionate heart that is capable of understanding human motives and rising above selfishness. By freeing ourselves from the shackles of past wounds, we may gain the clarity and wisdom needed to navigate complex emotions and respond to the needs of our communities with empathy and grace.

As I reflect on my own personal journey of survival, forgiveness has become my profound act of self-love and self-compassion, nurturing my emotional well-being and fostering a sense of inner peace. Through forgiveness and choosing to overcome hatred with a stronger sense of love and compassion, we can be positive models of change, and this could be our gift to Australia and the world. 

I hold onto the hope that despite the pain and sadness, all people of Rwandan background will achieve true reconciliation and coexist peacefully. Through these local commemorative initiatives that resound global impact, I hope that Australia can be a model of healing and reconciliation. We are incredibly fortunate to reside in one of the world's greatest nations and I hope that the Rwandan community can capitalise on the many opportunities Australia offers to heal and thrive. Today, despite the many apparent challenges, I maintain the hope of visiting my country of origin Rwanda soon. 

May our collective efforts contribute to a world where "Never Again" is not just a phrase but a sincere guiding principle of our shared humanity.

Former Rwandan refugee Amiel Nubaha was born and raised in a refugee camp before migrating to Australia through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Resettlement Program. He holds degrees in Law, Criminology and Conflict Resolution and is an experienced Mediator, Peacebuilder and Restorative Justice Practitioner.

As the current Chairperson of the Federation of Rwandan Communities in Australia Inc., Amiel leverages his extensive experience to foster healing and reconciliation within vulnerable communities. Now proudly calling Australia home, Amiel is dedicated to building bridges across global divides through his work with Initiatives of Change Australia.

Through his practice, Comprehensive Mediation Services, Amiel offers a wide range of mediation services including specialised training on how to effectively engage with clients from diverse and vulnerable backgrounds.


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