A mass funeral for over 83,000 victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is expected to take place today at Nyanza Memorial in Kicukiro District.
The remains of the victims were recovered over a period spanning one year from scores of mass graves and underneath houses in Kabuga-Gahoromani, a densely populated neighbourhood on the outskirts of the City of Kigali.
Over 100 mass graves were discovered in Masaka Sector Kicukiro District, and another 42 were in neighbouring Rusororo Sector in Gasabo District.
Most of the victims are thought to have been killed at a notorious roadblock along the Kigali-Rwamagana road manned by Interahamwe militia, which intercepted the Tutsi who were running for their dear life.
“Kabuga was a crossing point for many Tutsi who were fleeing killings from other parts of Kigali heading to the east of the country,” said Egide Nkuranga, vice president of Ibuka, the umbrella of Genocide survivors.
Some of the victims were also killed at the roadblock as they attempted to flee to Kigali from nearby places like Muyumbu and Nyagasambu, he said.
While many Genocide victims remain unaccounted for and efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of their remains continue in earnest across the country, the sheer number of the exhumed victims in the heart of a residential area like Kabuga-Gahoromani shocked many.
Information that led to the exhumation of the remains in the area came last year from a drunken Genocide perpetrator, who was aged 19 when he took part in the killings a quarter a century ago, Saturday Times established.
“Initially the tip-off was about one mass grave, then it led to another and then another one, until we discovered so many of such mass graves across the neighbourhood,” Nkuranga said, adding that some locals had even knowingly constructed houses atop of mass graves, while others had secretly relocated some remains to remove traces.
Some of the remains were retrieved from within foundations of houses constructed after the Genocide, Nkuranga said, adding that in some cases successive homeowners sold the properties on learning about the remains underneath but did not pass on the information to authorities.
Most of the mass graves that were found in the area were dug as early as 1992, way before the Genocide against the Tutsi, Nkuranga said.
He added that it was impossible to identify most of the victims because, in most cases, not only acid was poured on their bodies so they could dissolve but the killers also applied salt blocks to completely crush the bones into ash.
Anyone who willfully refuses to share information about the possible whereabouts of remains of the victims commits a criminal offence, according to the law.
“It is a shame that such a larger number of victims could not be found for all this time,” said Modest Mbabazi, the Spokesperson of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau.
Rwandans should understand that telling the truth about the Genocide and the fate of victims is a key element in the healing of survivors, he told this newspaper.
Nkuranga said that Ibuka will continue to do everything possible to ensure that all Genocide victims are recovered and accorded decent burial.
However, he said, “we also know that some of the victims will never be recovered, especially those that were dumped in rivers, lakes, and swamps.”
A 2001 survey by the Government of Rwanda put the number of Genocide victims at 1,074,017.
The Nyanza Memorial Centre where the recovered victims will be interred and honoured today is already home to over 11,000 Genocide victims, including over 3,000 Tutsi who were slaughtered on April 11, 1994 when a contingent of UN Belgian troops withdrew from ETO-Kicukiro (now IPRC-Kigali), leaving thousands of helpless refugees at the mercy of Interahamwe and ex-FAR soldiers that had already laid siege to the compound.
The Genocide against the Tutsi was brought to a halt in July 1994 by Rwanda Patriotic Army, then under the command of the now-President Paul Kagame.