Twenty years ago, Bugesera region witnessed the most cruel and evil moments ever.
Militiamen killed children in the most savage manner, neighbours turned heartless as they unveiled their brutality on their Tutsi compatriots, with massacres spreading like wild fires.
By then, the Bugesera region was made up of Ngenda, Gashora and Kanzenze communes.
During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, killers in the region spared no one, not even a neonate, survivors say.
The killings in Bugesera started as early as April 8, 1994, but gained momentum on April 12, exactly 20 years from today.
The Tutsi in Bugesera were hunted down from their homes by members of Coalition pour la Défense de la République (Coalition for the Defence of the Republic –CDR), an extremist political party that acted as the engine of the genocidal machine.
“On the night of April 7, the day after President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, two people were killed around Nyabarongo River. This was followed by a form of protest by the CDR members who falsely accused Tutsi of killing Habyarimana,” said Emmanuel Ndashimye, a Genocide survivor from Nyamata Sector in Bugesera District.
A radio announcement made that same day instructed the public to stay indoors. However, according to Ndashimye, members of CDR and Mouvement Républicain National pour la démocratie et le Dévelopement (National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development–MRND), another genocidal party that was in power by then, did not stay indoors.
“They moved around the streets, chanting and singing songs insinuating that they were going to kill us. Two days later, a grenade was thrown into my compound. Luckily, it did not damage anything or injure anyone,” said the survivor.
To save his family, Ndashimye had to seek a safer place for his pregnant wife and four children but in the process of fleeing, he witnessed the brutality of soldiers and gandarmes who acted alongside the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militia groups in slaughtering Tutsi.
“They moved from one place to another particularly looking for the rich and elite Tutsi. It seemed like they had a list of particular faces they were looking for. Since I was a teacher, I was a prime target; I had to separate with my family not to lead them to death,” said Ndashimye.
In the course of days, the killings intensified as Ndashimye roamed the hills of Bugesera evading the killers and trying to find a safe place for his family.
Prominent among the genocidaires in Bugesera included businessmen Charles Bandora and Pastor Jean Uwinkindi, who were extradited and transfered from Norway and ICTR, respectively, to stand trial for their role in the Genocide.
Other notorious perpetrators included Gervais Ngombwa, who is still at large.
Survivors say local leaders and Interahamwe militia gave orders that no Tutsi was spared.
“When the killings gained momentum on April 12, people who were hiding in either bushes or commune offices started moving into churches. Everyone thought churches were above the savagery of human kind. My wife and four children went to Ntarama church, while I wandered the hills,” said Ndashimye
At Ntarama Church, militiamen hacked to death his pregnant wife, three children and a dozen relatives. One of his four children survived.
“They killed everyone, including newborns. They killed in such a brutal way; it is hard to describe how it happened,” he said.
Ntarama Church is now a Genocide memorial site. Inside, there are bloodstained walls where babies’ heads were smashed.
On the other side of the church, there is what used to be a Sunday school. This is another place where a series of dehumanising actions took place: children were taken there and systematically killed. Today, blood stains testify to the horror.
A nearby kitchen shows another gruesome scene, with charred mattresses as a testimony of how people were burnt to death.
At the height of the Genocide, Bugesera ceased to be the sleepy region it used to be, with figures indicating that close to 100,000 people were killed in the area during the ethnic cleansing.
In his book, A Time for Machetes; the Killers Speak, Jean Hatzfeld Pancrace quotes anonymous Ntarama perpetrators as saying, “During that killing season, we rose earlier than usual, to eat lots of meat, and we went up to the soccer field at around nine or 10 o’clock. The leaders would grumble about latecomers, and we would go off on the attack. Rule number one was to kill. There was no rule number two. It was a smooth operation.”
Expectant mothers mutilated
Going by the chilling ‘rule,’ killers ended up cutting open pregnant women just to reach the foetus and kill them too.
Some of the people who issued search orders include Gervais Ngombwa, who currently enjoys a safe haven in the United States.
The US government is aware of his involvement and has sent investigators to Rwanda on several occasions.
Ngombwa’s name came up during Uwinkindi’s trial at ICTR as a member of joint criminal enterprise whose common purpose was to commission genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group and persons identified as Tutsi or presumed to support the Tutsi.
Records from ICTR indicates that on April 12, together with Uwinkindi, Ngombwa participated in a large-scale attack on Tutsi civilians who had sought refuge at Kanzenze communal offices in which he shot and killed some of them.
The two were in company of the attackers, who were armed with guns and machetes, numbering about 1,500, among them soldiers, gendarmes, Interahamwe and armed civilians.
During this attack, which lasted about three hours, many Tutsi were brutally killed.