Innocent Kabanda, a resident of Gisenyi sector, Rubavu District was 13 years old at the time of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
He remembers vividly how the killers lured his father, relatives and neighbours to Ruliba cemetery, only for them to be massacred moments later.
“Killers deceived him that they were taking him to the commune (district) offices where he and other Tutsis would be protected,” he says, naming some people he knew who were killed there alongside his father.
Commune Rouge or Red district, was formally a cemetery.
“The place used to serve as a cemetery but in 1990, a deep pit was dug near the cemetry by Gisenyi inmates under the instruction of leaders. Residents were oblivious to the fact that the pit was actually going to serve as a mass grave for some,” Kabanda said.
Sources say the genocidal government had ordered Gisenyi prison inmates to dig a pit near the cemetery, two years before the Genocide started. This points to a planned and well orchestrated move to have the Tutsis dumped there in the wake of the Genocide.
The plan came to pass when during the Genocide, the Interahamwe militia hoodwinked the Tutsis in the area that they were being taken to the commune offices for safety only for the militia to veer them off to the cemetery to be buried alive.
Located in Ruliba cell, Gisenyi Sector in Rubavu District, the mass grave containing the remains of the Tutsi victims has now been turned into a memorial site.
Officials, however, say there is a plan to exhume the remains of the slain Tutsis and honour them with a befitting sendoff at a new cemetry currently under construction in the same area.
“I am hoping to see the remains of my father will be alert when the remains are being exhumed so that I see my father and other relatives who were lured to their death. I remember he was dorning a sports jersey and had his identity card in the pocket,” Kabanda says.
“The place turned into a Golgotha of sorts because of the atrocities that took place here. Tutsis were being lured here, they never lived to see the next day,” he adds
Now the head of the umbrella organisation for Genocide survivors’ associations (Ibuka) in Rubavu District, Kabanda says hundreds of Tutsis who lived in Gisenyi and the surrounding areas were led to the cemetery and slaughtered there.
There are no official statistics on the number of people who perished there but Kabanda believes the number will be established when the remains are exhumed.
“When the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) stopped the Genocide, we emerged from our hideouts and found bodies of the dead dumped in the pit while others were scattered around it,” Kabanda says.
“We built a wall around the pit and put a roof on our departed ones,” he adds.
Place of trial killings?
Sources in Rubavu also say the place was used for trial killings.
Yousuf Niyitegeka, a resident of Kamahoro cell in Gisenyi Sector and a Genocide survivor, says he hid in the hole for more than two weeks.
“Between 1991 and 1992, People who were accused of collaborating with RPA, especially in Bigogwe area, were rounded up, brought to the area ( commune rouge) and killed,” Niyitegeka says.
She said the perpetrators of the Genocide in Rubavu never wanted the dead bodies to litter the streets and used the pit to conceal the massacres.
“The Interahamwe militia never wanted to see the streets strewn with bodies. Even those killed in town or in their homes were later thrown into the pit,” she adds.
As the Kwibuka (Remembrance) Flame arrives in Rubavu District today ahead of the 20th commemoration, survivors still remember how Tutsis were slaughtered during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi with many buried in mass graves alive.
The Flame is set to cover all districts before the start of the national commemoration week in April. It signifies remembrance resilience, hard work, unity and commitment that characterised Rwandans over the past 20 years.
Kabanda says that despite the tragedy that left him with only two brothers, Genocide survivors are gradually building their lives.
“I have managed to attend school against the odds. I am married and expect to my first born soon,” kabanda says.