Gatsibo survivors demand justice for ‘Ibyitso’ victims

Genocide survivors whose family members were given a decent burial at Kiziguro Genocide Memorial, Gatsibo District on April 11, 2019. Photos by Jean de Dieu Nsabimana.

Though a lot has been done to bring to book perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, survivors of the Genocide in Gatsibo District have said little was done to hold people accountable for the death of those perceived to be accomplices of RPF-Inkotanyi.

Following the launch of the liberation struggle by the RPF-Inkotanyi on October 1, 1990, a wave of arrests, torture and assassinations at the hands of the state machinery of the time, was mounted across the country.

Many people were killed, and, according to survivors of the Genocide in Gatsibo District, there has been little effort to bring to book perpetrators of these crimes, almost 30 years after they were committed.

During an event to commemorate the Genocide in the area, held at Kiziguro Genocide Memorial on Thursday, survivors said that the ‘Ibyiso’, as those perceived to be accomplices of RPF-Inkotanyi were known, started being picked up as early as four days after the RPF invasion.

Ibuka’s Sibomana speaks at the event.

Survivors asked government to give justice to families of the victims of the ‘Ibyitso’ persecution, claiming that the perpetrators did not get punished as those who perpetrated the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Kiziguro was part of former Murambi Commune in the then Byumba Prefecture.

At least 16 Tutsis from Murambi were killed in October 1990 for allegedly backing RPF-Inkotanyi.

According to witnesses, they were killed at the headquarters of the prefecture, located in today’s Gicumbi District.

However, survivor accounts show that over 400 are estimated to have been killed in the whole Byumba Province, which is today’s Gatsibo and Nyagatare Districts in Eastern Province and Gicumbi in the Northern Province.

Cruel death

The victims, survivors indicate, were killed in a manner so cruel that no remains can be traced; their bodies were incinerated with charcoal for some and gas for others.

The harassment and killings of the Tutsis were mostly orchestrated by a prominent genocidaire in Gatsibo, Jean Baptiste Gatete, once the Bourgmestre of then Murambi Commune, according to the testimonies.

He has since been convicted and in 2012, his sentence was reduced to 40 years on appeal from the life sentence that had earlier been handed to him by the trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

However, the charges for which he was tried and convicted did not include the killing of the ‘Ibyitso’, and survivors said justice is needed.

Jean Nepomuscène Sibomana, a survivor from Rwankuba, in Murambi sector – which was also Gatete’s birthplace – is the president of Ibuka in Gatsibo, the umbrella body for survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi.

He said that he has been monitoring activities of the tribunal, and many perpetrators have been getting early release and does not rule out the possibility of Gatete benefiting from the same.

“If this happens, we will file another case so he is brought to account for our people that he killed under the guise of being collaborators of RPF. Like many others, he has never been brought to account for these deaths. He should tell us why he killed them,” Sibomana told mourners at Kiziguro.

“It’s been 29 years now since their death, but no one has ever been brought to account for their murder and this pains us a lot,” he said, adding that there are other accomplices besides Gatete.

“We know that our government prioritises justice, and we know that there is no expiry date for crimes like these, whatever time it will take, we will be patient, but our wish is for these victims’ families to get justice,” he added.

Father Laurent Rutinduka, the parish priest of Kiziguro Catholic Church, grew up in the former Murambi area, and knew Gatete and the atrocities he superintended in the area from 1990 up to 1994.

He said that Gatete ordered for the rounding up of many Tutsi who worked at the commune and they were taken to Byumba where they were killed.

“These were people he worked with, others he had known for all his life but he did not hesitate to order their killing,” he said.

“For example, Jonathan Sebusange, who was my sister’s husband, they [both Gatete and Sebusange] worked in the same office; he was in charge of youth and cooperatives,” he narrated.

Rutinduka kept citing the victims of ‘Ibyitso’ saga, and eventually announced, “I know them all, the likes of Butare (another victim), we used to play football together in that playground.”

 “He [Gatete] was saying that they were the RPF soldiers he captured in Murambi,” he said.

In 1991, those whose loved ones were arrested started enquiring about their whereabouts.

“We went to prisons and tried to follow up but everywhere we went to enquire, we would be told to ask RPF and they would cite names of some of the leaders of the struggle, saying that they were the ones who took them,” said Rutinduka.

He said that most of them had received information that their people had been killed in Byumba and their limbs destroyed.

“Because international bodies had picked interest in the disappearances, the last people who were jailed were not killed, they were released later.”

Gatete, in 1992, also started killing Tutsis in his birthplace, Rwankuba in Murambi.

Some Tutsi families also escaped Murambi and went to live elsewhere because of the brutality that was presided over by Gatete.

“My family moved to Rwamagana and left this place,” said the cleric.

Every year, on April 8, districts in the former Byumba province commemorate the alleged ‘Ibyisto’ from the area who were killed prior to the full-scale Genocide.

According to Sibomana, Gicumbi District has pledged to establish a memorial site dedicated to these victims and that both Gatsibo and Gicumbi districts have committed to fund research to identify all the ‘Ibyitso’ victims and related facts.