Genocide: Will victims dumped in Kayonza pond ever get decent burial?

Survivor treat the dam as home to their loved ones. They lay flowers on it during commemoration. Photo/ Jean de Dieu Nsabimana.

For the past 25 years survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi have pleaded for the exhumation of the remains of their loved ones who were dumped in Ruramira pond in Kayonza District during the Genocide.

The pond divides Nyamirama and Ruramira sectors of Kayonza District. The victims dumped here were mainly from Kayonza and Kabarondo.

The pond is also located near former Rutonde Commune  headquarters, in the present-day Rwamagana District. Therefore, some of the victims who were dumped here are believed to have been residents of that area.

When The New Times visited the pond last week, it was raining and the water level had risen to near flooding.

All the residents that were interviewed testified that the pond is a mass grave for thousands of Genocide victims who are yet to be recovered in order to be accorded decent burial.

“I knew some some of the people, they included a woman named Cecile and another one called Victoria, who died alongside all her children,” said Leonidas Ntambara.

According to Silas Rwesingimbi, a resident of Ruramira Sector; “So many victims were dumped there in 1994, and at the time, you could see the bodies floating on water.”

Immediately after the Genocide some bodies were discovered and given decent burial.

However, last year a fisherman was going about his usual trade, fending for his family, when he discovered human bones in the water body.

He raised an alarm, prompting local leaders to organise an impromptu community work, Umuganda. They managed to exhume 40 bodies from the pond, whose water levels had reduced then because of drought.

But on that day it rained heavily, forcing the locals to abandon the activity. The water levels rose again, and the pond has been full since then, which has made it hard for people to manually retrieve the remains of the Genocide victims.

Now residents have appealed to local authorities to deploy machines in order to exhume the remains of their loved ones so they can be accorded decent burial.

John Muramba, the leader of Sabununga Village, said: “We managed to exhume 40 bodies from the pond, and then the rain interrupted us.  Everybody ran away from the rain when the exercise was still underway. Remains of some Genocide victims were visible,” he said.

Muramba estimates that more than 20 families from his village have their loved ones in the pond.

“The bodies that were found are scheduled to be laid to rest soon and we believe this will give relief to the survivors.” 

Benoit Gatete, who lost his sister Bonifrida Kayitesi and her two young children, said:“she was with her two children, one on her back and another in her hands. She was chased by the militia…she was very frightened and decided to escape into the water. She drowned with both her children,” he narrated.

Officials speak out

During a recent session, Members of Parliament tasked government to come up with a way forward, within six months, over the fate of Genocide victims that are yet to be exhumed from the pond.

Naphtal Ahishakiye, the Executive Secretary of Ibuka, told The New Times that soon a meeting will be convened find a solution.

“It is sad to have some Genocide victims whose remains have yet to be discovered and exhumed. If it is possible to reduce the water and see how to reach the bodies. We heard it is a big issue. We will meet as IBUKA, CNLG, and the district and decide what can be done soon,” he said.

He added that, as more Genocide victims continue to be discovered and exhumed, plans are in place to accord decent burial.

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