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Statement by African Rights

The people of Rwanda will mark the 11th anniversary of the 1994 genocide on 7 April with a national day of mourning. The deaths of more than a million people were a loss for Rwanda and for humanity. For genocide survivors this is a traumatic, but extremely important occasion, when they may publicly express the grief they still feel. For other Rwandese, and outsiders, it is an appropriate moment to demonstrate compassion, sorrow and regret. All at African Rights share in the sorrow of the commemoration. Through our work we have all learned of the deaths of countless men, women and children. In memory of the victims, we emphasize, once again, the need to prioritise justice and to offer support to genocide survivors.

Remembering the 1994 Genocide in Murambi District
Umutara Province

5 April 2005

The people of Rwanda will mark the 11th anniversary of the 1994 genocide on 7 April with a national day of mourning. The deaths of more than a million people were a loss for Rwanda and for humanity. For genocide survivors this is a traumatic, but extremely important occasion, when they may publicly express the grief they still feel. For other Rwandese, and outsiders, it is an appropriate moment to demonstrate compassion, sorrow and regret. All at African Rights share in the sorrow of the commemoration. Through our work we have all learned of the deaths of countless men, women and children. In memory of the victims, we emphasize, once again, the need to prioritise justice and to offer support to genocide survivors.

We recognize that both the government of Rwanda and international agencies have already made substantial and valuable contributions in both these endeavours over the years, but we are also aware that many survivors remain isolated, fearful, impoverished, in poor health and have yet to see justice served. Furthermore, so devastating was the experience of the genocide—and so complex its causes and effects—that promoting recovery for all the citizens of Rwanda is a daunting task. A brief review of the experiences of people from Murambi in Umutara province, where the national commemoration of the genocide will this year take place, illustrates both the extent of this challenge and some of the achievements to date.

Looking back over African Rights’ past interviews from survivors, witnesses and perpetrators in Murambi and neighbouring communes, we are reminded of the intensity and brutality of the violence there, and of its appalling consequences. A rape survivor living in Murambi, speaking almost a decade after the genocide, described the sense of despair felt by many years after the genocide:

I’m handicapped in the true sense of the word. I don’t know how to explain this to you. I still regret the fact that I am alive because I’ve lost my lust for life. We survivors are exhausted. We live under circumstances that we find oppressive, with our wounds hurting more every day. We are constantly in mourning.

Another resident of Murambi, now HIV positive, explained that she could not bring to justice the men who raped her in 1994 because she did not know their identities, while a third survivor had tried to pursue justice for her family and neighbours to little avail. She feared the impending release of one of the killers and knew that another had eluded justice.

I also testified against Kalisa who murdered my neighbours. He was imprisoned, but later he gave somebody a backhander and he too is now free.

African Rights’ past research in this region has also helped to explain some of the ways in which the genocide began and spread. Through personal testimonies, people have provided important information about the killings in Murambi, shedding light on who planned, incited and led the slaughter there and surrounding areas and how the killings were carried out. The figure of Jean-Baptiste Gatete, a former bourgmestre of Murambi, and a prominent and much-feared member of the local community, dominates memories of the genocide in Murambi.

Marie-Spéciose Ngategure, 25, an employee of the Young Catholic Workers’ Association, lived in Businde in Kiramuruzi. She was getting ready to leave for Kigali when a militiaman arrived early on the morning of the 7th and took away her brother, Athanase Kayumba. Kayumba had previously been detained for two months by Gatete and tortured. All the men who had suffered at his hands were among the key targets of the genocide; most died, including Kayumba.

At about 7:00 a.m. we hid in a bush, not far from the house, and spent the night of 7 April there. On the morning of the 8th, they began looting and burning Tutsi houses; our house was wrecked. We saw it all from our hiding place. They started hunting down Tutsis at about 6:00 a.m. on the 8th. I shall never forget that day. The interahamwe came looking for us at 7:00 p.m. There were five of us; they told us to follow them. We came upon an interahamwe called Kwishunga, who was afraid of my brothers. He begged his colleagues to let us go and they did so. But they kept back one of my cousins and raped her all night. They brought her back at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. She survived.

Kwishunga hid us at his place on the night of 8-9 April. We left at dawn on the 9th and decided to split up. Each of us found our own hiding place. I still hoped to survive because they said Gatete had ordered that only men should be killed.

Gatete has been in the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) since 2002, but has yet to be brought to trial. The weight of the evidence against him is substantial and his prosecution should have been underway by now. Having held the position of bourgmestre for ten years, Gatete had established a strong power base and a militia during his time in local government. In fact he was removed from his post just months before the genocide because his regime of violence was becoming an embarrassment to the government.

In April 1994 he returned to Murambi to orchestrate the killings. He chaired the meeting, on the night of 6 April, in which the crucial decisions about the genocide in Murambi were taken. Amongst other crimes, he armed the interahamwe and other civilians in Murambi, provided them with transport and encouraged them to eliminate Tutsis throughout the commune. He forcibly moved 150 refugees from the orphanage in Gakoni to the Parish of Kiziguro on 9 April. Two days later, he organized and participated in the massacre at the parish in which some 2,000 refugees died. Then, at the Parish of Mukarange in commune Muhazi, he cooperated with the bourgmestre of Kayonza and local military commanders to plan and implement the massacre of more than 4,000 Tutsi refugees, overwhelming the brave resistance encouraged by the parish priest, Fr. Jean-Bosco Munyaneza, who stayed and chose to die with the refugees. The men who took their orders from Gatete are also known to have committed acts of sexual violence and rape, often in broad daylight, as at the Parish of Kiziguro.

In just five days most of the Tutsis in Murambi had perished. Gatete then transferred his campaign to the neighbouring préfecture of Kibungo where local residents, particularly those from Kayonza, Muhazi and Rukira—were massacred with lightning speed. He continued to incite Hutus to kill Tutsis until the very end, urging the refugees fleeing to Tanzania to identify and murder survivors. The fact that any Tutsis in the area survived is due to the military defeat of government forces by the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), first in Murambi on 14 April and then in Kibungo on 29 April.

Much of the testimony to the crimes committed by Jean-Baptiste Gatete comes from former genocide perpetrators, showing how valuable the strategy of encouraging confessions has been. A farmer who has confessed to participating in the genocide there said he did so at the behest of the authorities, including Gatete.

We killed because we received orders from the bourgmestre, Mwange; Gatete and the interahamwe leader, Nkundabazungu. They collaborated with Rwabukombe, the bourgmestre of Muvumba, and militiamen who are here in prison. They are the ones who supervised the genocide in Murambi. Even though they didn’t kill with their own hands, they are the people responsible for the genocide. They were all armed.

He added that the génocidaires in Murambi used the rumour that Tutsis had killed Habyarimana to mobilize support for the genocide.

But it was untrue. It was an excuse. They simply wanted to eliminate them and provoke a civil war. They said it was a civil war. But the Tutsi were not armed. They had no weapons with which to protect themselves. Yet during the meetings they organized to raise our political awareness and to encourage us to kill the Tutsis, the authorities and the militia told us they were armed.

Jean de Dieu Mwange, the bourgmestre of Murambi in April 1994, imprisoned in Rwanda, denies the many allegations of genocide against him and argues that Gatete was primarily responsible. He says that he himself was one of the young men recruited and trained by Gatete. He explained that Gatete’s power was strengthened by his relationships with people displaced from their homes in the communes of Kiyombe and Muvumba, and living in Murambi, because of the ongoing civil war.

The northerners wanted revenge on the Tutsis, claiming that the inkotanyi who had driven them off their land were Tutsis. Gatete lived among them and was regarded as their leader. Even before the genocide, Gatete often held meetings in Bidudu camp. Whenever those displaced people from Kiyombe and Muvumba arrived somewhere, they immediately started killing. The genocide would not have been so severe in Murambi if those displaced persons had not been there. They did a lot to incite the residents of Murambi to finish off the Tutsis. The people of Murambi would not have dared to do it on their own. They were well aware that there were officially 30,000 Tutsis out of a total population of 80,000. The displaced people from Kiyombe and Muvumba told them: “If you don’t join in, you’ll die with them.” Gatete had found staunch allies in them.

These comments, based on previous research, demonstrate that there is now extensive and convincing information about the genocide in Murambi. Many people agree, it seems, about the course of events; indeed the memory of the genocide appears to be etched in detail upon all their minds. It is apparent that the planning and preparation of the genocide was extensive. In Murambi, the violence was immediate, intense and devastating and it was fuelled also by fears and tensions associated with the civil war. Moreover, study of a nearby commune in Kibungo, Gahini , illustrates that not only did the forces of genocide from Murambi move on to “work” in other locations, but their violence also had a demonstration effect. People in surrounding areas saw the houses burning in Murambi and began to target Tutsis near their own homes. Above all, however, the accounts of the genocide in Murambi underline, once again, just how important powerful individuals were in determining the outcome in the days after the death of President Juvénal Habyarimana. Gatete had long been notorious as a violent extremist; he showed his antipathy towards Tutsis as soon as he took over as bourgmestre in the 1980s. He had prospered in local politics in spite of, and probably even because of, his extremist views. His personal commitment to the genocide decided the fate of many of the Tutsi residents of Murambi.

Although in Umutara the genocide lasted just weeks, so much blood was spilt that it seems to have stained all the years since. Survivors’ lives, in Murambi as elsewhere, are overshadowed by the impact of these days of horror, and the delays in holding perpetrators to account have amounted to a torture of waiting for them.

For 77-year-old Rose Kankindi thoughts about the death of her husband and five children in Murambi make it difficult to cordon-off painful memories.

I hardly get any sleep. If I fall asleep, it’s not for more than an hour. I have the same nightmares all the time. I remember my children, how they were killed and who killed them, and all the other things that deeply affected me during the genocide.

Bereft of her husband and children, Madeleine Mukakalisa from Murambi says she “might as well have died” since she spends so much of her time alone in her house.

I once had a family, with my husband to advise us all about household problems. Now I’m all alone in the house. I don’t have a single child to send to the market. They used to help me with the housework, but now I have to do it by myself. If the children had not been killed, they would have left school by now and would be supporting me, and I wouldn’t have any problems. Just staying in the house all alone with no one to talk to is a problem in itself. Once I went an entire month without leaving the house. I carry on by the grace of God.

“Everything has changed”, lamented François Gakwavu, a farmer of 51. His wife, Drocella, and his seven children, died in the massacre at the local parish in Murambi.

The problems connected with the genocide are many and affect every aspect of life. I used to have milk to drink, manure for the land, and cattle to sell, but I have no livestock left. The looters took them all. And the only crops I grow are the ones I live on. We had a very productive grove. But now, if you compare current production with figures from before the genocide, you will see there is hardly anything left.

“The human losses”, said François, go a long way to explain these dramatic changes.

My wife and I used to do the farm work together, and we had good harvests. She used to help me with all my work. The children also gave us a hand. My brothers were all murdered. Now I have no one to give me advice. I live alone; even the neighbours were killed. I have no one to go and spend the evening with because all the people we used to visit have been massacred.

We hope that the trial of Jean-Baptiste Gatete will soon open at the ICTR and that it will bring some relief to survivors of his crimes. Similarly, the forthcoming gacaca trials in this region should provide another opportunity for justice and for uncovering the truth. It is in the interests of the present and former residents to do all they can to ensure that the process is effective in both exposing crimes and encouraging open dialogue about the past within the local community. However, African Rights is concerned to learn that recently a significant number of people, among them many suspects who were provisionally released from prison, have been fleeing across the borders into neighbouring countries in a bid to escape the gacaca trials.

People from various backgrounds in Umutara might agree upon the need to prosecute Jean-Baptiste Gatete, but it is important to note that they may well still be divided on several other questions relating to the genocide and its aftermath. Indeed, research carried out elsewhere in Rwanda has suggested that even the annual commemoration itself may be a source of tension within communities. Some people, from a sense of guilt, apparently prefer to try to forget the genocide, and others feel discomfort about commemorations even if they took no part in the atrocities. Some also argue that their own experiences of violence, in war or exile, are being ignored. We hope that this year it will be possible for all in Umutara, and elsewhere in the country, to come together in the recognition that the extreme racist politics of the genocide have damaged, in some way, the lives of all the people of Rwanda as well as many in neighbouring countries. We must never forget the atrocities Gatete committed against the Tutsi residents of Umutara, but we should also remember that he deceived, intimidated and corrupted many of the people he claimed to represent. And a special place in the remembrances of the genocide in Umutara must also be kept for the few individuals who refused to take part in the slaughter or who saved lives, among them Fr. Jean-Bosco Munyaneza. Preserving the memories of the 1994 genocide, in all their diversity and complexity, is, we believe, a necessary part of efforts to prevent political violence in the future.