1994, the year hospitals turned into killing grounds

Hospitals and churches are the foremost institutions considered saviours. In times of adversity, humanity seeks sanctuary in these institutions for it is believed they give more protection than a military garrison can offer.
Families pay tribute to relatives who lost their lives to the 1994 Genocide at Rebero memorial recently. (File)
Families pay tribute to relatives who lost their lives to the 1994 Genocide at Rebero memorial recently. (File)

Hospitals and churches are the foremost institutions considered saviours. In times of adversity, humanity seeks sanctuary in these institutions for it is believed they give more protection than a military garrison can offer.

However, the reality was beyond human understanding 21 years ago, when at the height of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, thousands of fleeing Tutsi sought what they believed would be sanctuary in hospitals, health centres and churches. 

Turns out the evil that pervaded and sucked into the hearts of kinsmen in that period was beyond ‘immediate’ redemption and daring enough to walk into churches to kill. Medics, too, turned against Tutsi patients and joined in the mass slaughter.

People who sought refuge in Rwanda’s leading referral hospitals; King Faisal Hospital (KFH) and University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) were not spared either.

They were ruthlessly killed by medical personel who were supposed to save them.

The New Times visited the two top hospitals for first-hand information.

“I, with my family sought refuge in KFH on April 7 as the Genocide started. About 4,000 people had sought refuge there. But we suffered a lot under the porches.

“It was terrifying, I was pregnant, and due in one month,” said a 53-year-old survivor who today works at the same hospital and preferred anonymity.

 “The killers could not enter KFH because it was protected by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), the army at the time, therefore, decided to fire bullets at the hospital from the opposite hill killing 39 and seriously injuring about 100 people,” she added.

The mother of nine commends the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) for ending their pain.

“We felt relieved when we heard that RPF was taking over Kigali and that Interahamwe militia had been overthrown,” she said.

At CHUK, the situation was even worse since there was no protection at all.

 “I was working at CHUK when Genocide began, I brought my husband and two children for refugee at the hospital.

“Little did we know that we had taken ourselves to the murderers. The interahamwe militia entered the hospital and took patients from their beds to kill them in the mortuary.

“Many patients and those badly wounded by killers from all around Kigali who were brought in for treatment were pursued and killed here, ” Caritas Mukankubito, 53, recounted the dreadful events at the hospital in 1994.

Mukankubito, who still works at CHUK, said her family kept hiding in different store rooms of CHUK until they were taken to Kabgayi Hospital in Southern Province as CHUK got evacuated in late May 1994.

Another elderly woman recalled traumatic moments she went through since 1970 when she started working at CHUK.

 “By 1994, we were used to harassment and we feared death no more because we had been surviving many attempts at our lives.

“In 1993, the Tutsi were labeled poisoners and excluded from the common dining room of CHUK,” she said.

The 70-year-old survived many murder attempts.

“When the Genocide started, I stayed at home, but on April 9, soldiers forced me to go to work. They told me they would kill me if I refused to oblige. There were many dead bodies and injured people  were brought to the hospital for treatment  continuously.

“Every night, the soldiers with our co-workers, mainly Benoit Ntezeyabo and Edithe Mukakabera, toured the hospital and took with them some patients to kill them in the hospital compound,” she recalls.

Dr Theobald Hategekimana, the Director General of CHUK,  said it was a disappointment that the medical profession was abused but CHUK has since committed to fighting divisionism.

“Some medical practitioners broke the professional oath, instead of saving lives. Killing a person is a crime against humanity, but much worse when it is done by a doctor.

“We know doctors who either killed or conspired with the killers. But we say ‘never again’ to the Genocide,” he told The New Times.

CHUK remembers its former employees who were killed during the Genocide and also condemns those who put the reputation of the profession in disrepute,he added. 

“We have identified 67 victims whose names appear on the memorial but research goes on to find others.”

Dative Mukaruzima, 60, a long serving social worker at CHUK, also condemned the health workers who either killed those seeking help or ignored those who ran to them for refuge.

“We were threatened by our colleagues but escaped many attempts to kill us. Early in 1994, a plan was hatched by our co-workers to kill us, but the director of the hospital, Faustin Kanyangabo, saved us by giving us a day off,” Mukaruzima disclosed.

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