Visiting Genocide memorial sites and getting firsthand information on what happened in Rwanda can play a significant role in fighting genocide ideology and denial, and ensuring that what happened never happens again in the future, Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi has said.
He was on Wednesday addressing thousands of mourners at the Murambi memorial in Nyamagabe District during a commemorative event held in memory of those who were killed in the area during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The premier pointed out that visiting memorial sites would help Rwandans, particularly the young generation, to learn about what happened and pick crucial lessons that would inspire them to fight genocide ideology and attempts at denying and minimising the scale of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
“Genocide memorials preserve our history. Memorial sites prove that genocide happened and whoever visits these sites acquires firsthand information on what really happened and it would be hard for anyone to mislead them thereafter,” he said.
Murekezi encouraged Rwandans to regulary visit Genocide memorial centres and to draw lessons from the country’s history.
He urged Rwandans work hard to achieve more as a people and to shun any kind of segregation, adding that the government will continue to support vulnerable Genocide survivors and other Rwandans in general.
Simon Mutangana, one of the few survivors of the killings in Murambi, explained the circumstances in which thousands of Tutsi were massacred in the region 23 years ago.
He said that the victims initially put up a strong resistance before they were overpowered by heavily-armed Interahamwe militia after days of fighting and hunger took a toll on them.
That fateful day, on April 21, he recalled, the militia tricked the victims into allowing them to conduct a head count (there were 50,000 of them gathered at the then Murambi Technical School) with a promise of giving them food.
“Once they had established our strength in terms of numbers, the Interahamwe and (then) government soldiers attacked us at 3a.m,” he said.
“We had stones while they had guns, grenades and machetes,” Mutangana told mourners. “Thousands were killed, there were bodies all over the place…the attackers used all sorts of weapons.”
A glance at Murambi Genocide memorial
Murambi has a long history of ethnic-based killings. Since 1959 through to the days leading up to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, authorities deliberately targeted the Tutsi in the region.
Many were killed over the years, while others were forcibly infamously relocated to Bugesera and Kibungo which were infested with the deadly tsetse fly.
But some remained in the area albeit under harsh policies promoted by both the first and second republics.
For the Tutsi in Murambi, in the former Gikongoro prefecture, just like others elsewhere in the country, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was the climax of decades of relentless persecution.
After the Genocide, the new government in Kigali established the Murambi Memorial Centre, which has some bodies that were not buried but rather preserved and kept in open spaces where visitors can see them.
The site has a cemetery that holds more than 50,000 victims of the Genocide and a former technical school that hosts some 1200 preserved bodies of some of the victims.
It’s at this school that a large number of victims were killed during the Genocide. Along with the preserved bodies, there are artifacts like clothes worn by the victims as proof of the ghastly killings in the area.
The memorial also has a section consisting of mass graves where bodies of the victims were dumped by their killers shortly after the slaughter before a volleyball court was immediately put up over the mass graves by French troops in what is seen as a cover-up.
A French flag was thereafter hoisted on the volleyball court.
The French troops were serving under the so-called humanitarian mission, Operation Turquoise that was hurriedly approved by the United Nations as the Genocide unfolded and exclusively composed of French soldiers.
Testimonies from survivors have since exposed how the mission later facilitated the killings in particularly western and southern Rwanda as opposed to saving those that were in danger.
The French mission also secured an escape corridor for the defeated former government army (FAR), Interahamwe militia and the rest of the genocidal apparatus allowing them to flee into DR Congo (then Zaire), from where they later reorganised and launched waves of deadly incursions on Rwanda in the subsequent years.
The Murambi memorial, one of the six national Genocide memorial centres in the country, also has a memorial garden.