Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Stop covering up atrocities

Published:Saturday | May 6, 2017 | 5:00 AM

It's mind-boggling that we continue to be so silent and are so unwilling to face the truths about the atrocities that have been perpetrated against our brothers and sisters who are vulnerable because of their religion and socio-economic or other status.

Consequently, many of us grow up with a less-than-truthful account of aspects of our past that we ought to know about. Seemingly, we do not recognise that sweeping under the carpet violent and traumatic experiences does nothing but hurt us and keep us back.

Last week, I visited the Kigali Genocide Museum in Rwanda. I learnt quite a lot about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered. Many hundreds of thousands were left battered physically, emotionally, and psychologically to nurse wounds that would be with them for a lifetime. Children were orphaned. Children were forced to become heads of their homes.

Admittedly, I had not taken time before now to learn about the atrocities there. What fuelled all this hate that resulted in the well-planned and orchestrated killing of Tutsis en masse? How did people cope during what must have been one of the most frightening experiences in their life? How do they fare now?

The stories about survivors' hope and resilience are powerful. A colleague told us how family members climbed and stayed in a tree for about a week without food. Another, who was three years at the time, said that they escaped to the Democratic Republic of Congo by foot. They stayed there for a year before returning home.

The museum left me feeling emotional. The trauma is still very palpable.

 

HORRIFIC CRIMES LOCALLY

 

Jamaica has had its fair share of atrocities, which have claimed many lives and continue to haunt us to this very day. The Coral Gardens massacre in April 1963. The Green Bay massacre in January 1978. The Eventide tragedy in May 1980. The political violence that was common in the 1970s into the '80s. The countless incidents of police violence against citizens such as those in Tivoli Gardens.

How do people, communities, and countries move past the hurt and trauma? How do they get to the point of forgiveness? How do they rebuild?

I wonder if we are held back as a country because we cover up all these atrocities. Pay no respect to the lives lost. We don't deal with them. Barely anyone talks about them. Seemingly, only a handful of people care. People are nursing these wounds. They're left with the bitter memories, the pain of losing loved ones, and are forced to suffer silently. What is it about us Jamaicans that we refuse to pay respect to those who have been murdered through politically motivated or state violence?

As human-rights advocate Susan Goffe said, "We underestimate the accumulated effect of decades of unresolved pain/anger/grief/fear/hatred."

It's intriguing to experience how peace and reconciliation and restorative justice have been used in post-conflict Rwanda. There are memorials, national observations, and affirmative actions and various other projects that were implemented to rebuild the country.

I don't see this happening in Jamaica. We have to write these atrocities back into our history. We have to be honest about them, face the daunting truth about them. Why are we afraid to face our truths? Why are we reluctant to be honest about our past? Where are the memorials? The tributes to the lives taken away from us year after year? Should we not pay respect to them?

Let's deal with it. Covering up helps no one. It leaves us bitter. It entrenches distrust. It tears communities apart. It leaves us disillusioned, hurt, and trapped.

How do we move forward as a nation if we are not taught and/or refuse to be honest about our past? The Parliament has a critical role to play in all of this. Prime Minister Holness' apology to the individuals affected by the Coral Gardens Massacre is a good first step. The fund set up by him is equally commendable. More will have to be done.

Other atrocities must be spoken of as well. We need to develop programmes to help our communities heal and work collectively to move forward. It's time we stop hiding from our truth.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV, and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.