One of the biggest challenges following the Rwandan genocide was getting it classified as such. As the international community faltered and fiddled and failed to appreciate what was happening, Rwandans shouted their experiences through shrouds of shock, grateful to anyone would listen and believe that such horror was possible.
Now with each anniversary those stories and images reappear throughout the media. And many survivors, once so grateful for a voice, have come to resent this exposure.
This issue first came to my attention in a conference in the Rwandan parliament on the weekend that this year's official period of mourning began. As questions were taken from the floor, a passionate voice piped up. “I'm not asking about what happened because I was there and I have seen it, but there is another issue now. As survivors we all wanted to tell and to say what had happened. There are at least two or three women I know pregnant from rape, they only wanted to talk. But twenty years later you still see your image coming out from BBC, CNN...” Speaking, I learn, is Odette Nyiramilimo, a physician, former government minister and current East African senator. Ethnically a Tutsi, she survived the genocide in the Hotel des Mille Collines, a scene later depicted in the film 'Hotel Rwanda'.
We meet again a few weeks later. Nyiramilimo sits in a bright, airy office, on the fourth floor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A portrait of President Paul Kagame hangs over her head. She's busy; her phone buzzes as we talk.
She tells me story after story.
The story of a girl, aged 15 during the genocide, who was taken by her parents' killers to the DRC and raped. When she escaped she was pregnant, and after she gave birth to a son she handed him to relatives to raise so she could attend university and start her life anew. She met a boy and they got engaged; then he travelled to Canada to finish his schooling. There, on the TV, he saw old footage of her speaking about her rape and called her in shock. With her engagement over, the girl called Nyiramilimo asking “what do I do? I don't want that story to be following me my whole life. Now I am well, I just finished university and I want to be normal.”
Staff, including midwives, counsellors and security guards, at the Freetown Rainbo Centre, in the Princeses Christian Maternity Hospital, which deals with rape crises. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Rainbo Centre sign which hangs in all three centres in Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Six members of a men's group in Kenema, Sierra Leone run by IRC. They are working to change men's attitudes and stop violence before it starts. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Midwife Annie Mafinda, with toys in the counselling room at the Freetown Rainbo Centre. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Safiatu Jalloh, counselor with the Rainbo Centre in Kenema. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Many Sowa, midwife at the Kenema Rainbo Centre, Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Rakel Larson, United Nations Displaced Persons representative, working with Irish Aid on the Saturday Courts project. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Balogun Dixon, Chief Officer Pademba Road Prison, at the Freetown Courthouse. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah, Consultant Master and Registrar of the Sierra Leone Judiciary. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
The Family Support Unit in the Kenema Police Force, pictured outside their station. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Poster on the walls of a courtroom in the Freetown Courthouse building offering socio-legal support for victims of gender-based violence. Photo: Niamh Griffin.
Joseph Rahall, Executive Director of eco-NGO 'Green Scenery', at their offices in Freetown, Sierra Leone.