Congo-Kinshasa: Nearly Three Decades Later, Congolese Tutsi Appeal for Persecution to End

22 September 2023

John Nsengiyera, 27, recalls, with a tinge of nostalgia, how life used to be back home in Ngungu, a region in Masisi territory, in DR Congo's North Kivu Province, where cattle grazed on rolling green hills.

Although the Congolese Tutsi community from this region has been subjected to discrimination since 1964, according to his parents, they always lived a decent livelihood.

"Despite all the discrimination, we had so many cows, enough food at home, and we lived in harmony with our neighbours. However, things got worse for us in 1994 when the Interahamwe (genocide militia) invaded our land when hundreds of thousands of Rwandans fled to our country," Nsengiyera said.

When the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) stopped the Genocide against the Tutsi, in Rwanda, in July 1994, the ousted genocidal regime's army (ex-FAR), politicians, and Interahamwe militia who orchestrated the Genocide - runaway, en masse, and with their weapons and loot, to eastern DR Congo, then known as Zaire. They arrived in Zaïre with the same ideology of exterminating the Tutsi.

"When they fled to our country, they arrived with their genocide ideology and targeted the Congolese Tutsi, and this is when the suffering of my community started in earnest," Nsengiyera said.

Before fleeing from Rwanda, the genocidaires had massacred more than one million people, in three months. In eastern Zaire, they enjoyed the full protection and support of the country's government and Western NGOs and governments including France.

They later banded together into what they called the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR). In 2000, soon after the US government listed it as a terrorist organization following its murder of American tourists in Uganda's Bwindi forest, they formed FDLR so as to evade or distance themselves from their horrendous crimes. The violence they orchestrated for the past three decades is what caused the mass exodus of Congolese refugees to Rwanda. The latter is now home to more than 80, 000 Congolese refugees including Nsengiyera, who cannot wait to return home.

To date, the DR Congo government, through its denial of the existence of Congolese refugees in Rwanda, is attempting to divert attention from the real reasons why these refugees exist in the first place. Kinshasa's continued collaboration with armed groups, including FDLR which targets the Congolese Tutsi, has aggravated insecurity in the region.

Tutsi communities continue to be subjected to widespread hate speech, discrimination, hostility, and violence rooted in the genocide ideology revived by the genocidal militia, FDLR, and embraced by the Congolese leadership and security apparatus.

Nsengiyera's family first sought refuge in Rwanda in 1997 when he was a one-year-old.

The family returned to their country in 2009 when relative calm returned. However, this was short-lived because the discrimination worsened and they returned to Rwanda in 2012.

While peace remains a receding mirage for many Congolese and in other countries in the world, every September 21 marks the International Day of Peace, which is observed around the world to commit to peace above all differences, and to contribute to building a culture of peace.

It was established in 1981 through a unanimous United Nations resolution.

The resolution defines the culture of peace as a set of values, traditions, and modes of behavior and ways of life based on: respect for life, full respect for the principles of sovereignty, full respect for and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, commitment to peaceful settlement of conflicts, efforts to meet the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations, and respect for and promotion of the right to development.

Similar sentiments are shared by Nsengiyera, who believes that while Congolese refugees found a safe haven in Rwanda, they are not living in peace.

He said: "There is no peace away from home."

"Where I am today, there is security, but I wouldn't call it peace - which has many components. I cannot say I am really peaceful when living here as a refugee, and thinking of my relatives who are stuck in Congo and who are facing persecution and death. We cannot say we are enjoying peace when we are called refugees," Nsengiyera said.

To him, peace prevails only when someone is able to develop, freely and harmoniously live on their own.

"Peace is not personal, but something that is shared. Peace cannot be achieved when people's rights are being infringed upon," Nsengiyera said.

Olive Muhabwazina, 28, another refugee from DR Congo, since 2012, defines peace as a situation where one is able to live a dignified life in their own country, enjoying all their rights.

She said: "I am grateful to the government of Rwanda for helping us when we couldn't find peace in our home country. They welcomed us, those of us who were able to go to school did. Those who wanted to engage in other vocations, the government of Rwanda allowed them to."

But she said that they can only enjoy peace if they are able to return home. She called upon the international community to do more in helping countries which are in conflict to achieve peace.

"We are safe in Rwanda, but those who are in Congo are being persecuted when the world is watching. I am urging the world to do their best so we can have peace in Congo."

Rwanda has not only made a name for itself as a safe haven for refugees. Currently, more than 130,000 refugees from Burundi and DR Congo are sheltered in Rwanda.

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