Zeitenspiegel Reportagen

Nightmare with no way out

Appeared in DIE ZEIT online, July 4, 2014

Von Autor Bernd Hauser

Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in the genocide in Rwanda 20 years ago. A group of German aid workers were present when Rwandan coworkers died. Are they guilty of a crime?

… A crowd forms in the village below and starts up the hill toward the GTZ’s building. The Germans know the man in the lead: Poulain Hakizimungu, a disgruntled former employee. He was always exceptionally friendly, until his firing six months before for defrauding them. GTZ staffer Magura goes outside. Hakizimungu holds up a hand grenade and tell him he has one hour. One hour to hand over the Tutsis who work in the building. If he cooperates, nothing will happen to him and the other whites. Otherwise, he and the assembled Hutus will throw grenades through the windows.

Thomas Magura looks back on that day with as much distance as he can muster. Could a situation like that happen anywhere? “Yes,” he says. “It’s part of the human condition.” Asked whether he was afraid, he becomes evasive. “In a situation like that, your only option is to play for time.”

He radioed the German embassy. They told him not to use his people as human shields …