As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, survivors say the international community must once again reflect on its failure to intervene.
The remarks were made by the vice-president of Ibuka, Egide Nkuranga, yesterday, prior to a commemoration event that took place at Nyanza Genocide memorial site.
Each year, on April 11, a memorial ceremony takes place at École Technique Officielle (ETO), in memory of the Genocide victims murdered in cold blood after UN troops abandoned them. Nyanza Memorial site is home to remains of close to 6,000 people who were killed in the area.
In 1994, over 2,000 Tutsi refugees camped at ETO Kicukiro under the protection of the Belgian UN troops. The Belgian contingent formed the backbone of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (Unamir).
The troops, however, pulled out of Rwanda on April 11, 1994, following the murder of ten Belgian soldiers by government forces.
“The ETO-Nyanza Kicukiro commemoration signifies failure and cowardice of the International Community. Unamir was there when the Interahamwe militia surrounded ETO and all they did was to abandon the people in time of need,” Nkuranga said.
A total of 97 Belgian peacekeepers based at ETO Kicukiro were ordered to fly back home, leaving over 2,000 refugees at the mercy of the marauding militia.
“The terrified refugees knelt in front of the vehicles, pleading with them to stay. But the troops shot in the air and drove off in their jeeps. Their departure coincided with the arrival of the genocidal government forces and more Interahamwe militia,” Nkuranga said.
As part of the commemoration event yesterday, Kicukiro District residents and survivors walked from ETO Kicukiro to Nyanza memorial site.
Nkuranga said that following the departure of the UN troops, government soldiers and Interahamwe took control of ETO Kicukiro.
The Tutsi were taken by government soldiers and the militia to Sonatube to be murdered but the then mayor of the city, Lt. Col. Tharcisse Renzaho, ordered that they instead be taken to Nyanza and killed from there because Sonatube was too visible as it was along the road to the airport.
The Tutsi were then forced to march back, all the way to Nyanza, amid a heavy downpour. Many had not eaten for a couple of days. Those too weak to walk were killed on the way. When they arrived at Nyanza, the militia asked them to present their IDs to ensure that no Hutu were among the group.
Mass killings then began and many of them were killed using machetes. The next morning, as the killers attempted to finish off those who were still alive, the Rwandan Patriotic Army soldiers arrived and rescued the few who had survived the massacre.
“Had the UN troops remained, these people wouldn’t have died. When we commemorate the Nyanza massacres, we are sending a message to the international community that despite their failure and apology, they need to do much more to comfort those who lost their relatives and the survivors who still nurse deep wounds, physically and psychologically,” Nkuranga said.
The commemoration was expected to end with a night vigil at Nyanza.
“This walk reminds us of that time when victims were made to walk to Sonatube, then to Nyanza where they were brutally killed,” said the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), Jean de Dieu Mucyo.
He added that CNLG is planning to work with Genocide survivors to document the history of Nyanza massacre.
Those who attended yesterday’s commemoration also heard a testimony of Agnes Uwera, a survivor who spent days under a pile of dead bodies at Nyanza hill.
Kicukiro District has six Genocide memorials, among them Nyanza memorial site, home to about 11,000 victims. The other is Rebero Genocide Memorial where 14,000 are buried, including politicians who were killed during the Genocide.