How Interahamwe killed over 14,000 Tutsi in Murambi in just four days

One of the most horrific facts about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was its swiftness, the killing of a million people in only 100 days.
The built-on Kiziguro Abyss in the Kiziguro Memorial site ground. Kelly Rwamapera.
The built-on Kiziguro Abyss in the Kiziguro Memorial site ground. Kelly Rwamapera.

One of the most horrific facts about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was its swiftness, the killing of a million people in only 100 days.

Murambi Commune in the present day Gatsibo District Eastern Province is one of the areas in the country that witnessed the highest degree of the swiftness of the Genocide.

 

Today, a Genocide memorial stands at Kiziguro in which 14,390 victims (killed in four days) are laid to rest with more than 3,700 killed in Kiziguro Roman Catholic Church on the morning of April 11, 1994.

 
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Former Mayor of Murambi Jean Baptiste Gatete commanded Interahamwe to kill over 3700 in Kiziguro Roman Catholic Church on the morning of April 11, 1994. Kelly Rwamapera

Murambi was one of the districts that made Byumba prefecture (Province) with 85,000 citizens who were well described in official documents as Tutsi or Hutu.

 

According to testimonies in Murambi, the former Bourgemestre (mayor) of Murambi Commune, Jean Baptiste Gatete is inseparable with the nature of Genocide in the area.

He was arrested in the DR Congo in 2002 and sentenced to 40 years imprisonment by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2011 for Genocide and crimes against humanity.

Born in Murambi, Fr. Rutinduka of Kiziguro Catholic Church in Gatsibo District knew Gatete and describes him as “A child of Murambi, an agricultural engineer, Bourgemestre from 1987-1993 and a zealot of MRND party.”

Fr. Rutinduka adds that “the government chose to consolidate Gatete in Murambi Commune for six years because of his wicked ability to exhaustively engage his resourcefulness in evil plots against the Tutsi in the area.”

Divisionism

Like the rest of the country, Gatete and his subjects, divided people along ethnic lines and nick-names like “cockroach”, “snake” and many more were called Tutsis in broad day light and killing them with “justification”.

In October 1990, Gatete detained 45 Tutsis and killed 16 of them in a military barracks in Byumba, where the province headquarters were.

A year later, On November 20, 1991, after accusations from opposition political parties, Gatete wrote a letter to then President Habyarimana and the cabinet justifying his killings in which he referred to all those who had fallen victims of his paw as “staunchly resenting the government” and deserved death.

Joseph Sakindi, one of the witnesses of Gatete’s crimes testified at the ICTR saying that in 1990, Gatete had an extensive spy network to report fleeing Tutsis, and even killed anyone aiding a Tutsi to flee.

Kadunguri is one of the militias who engaged in the killing of over 3,700 Tutsis who had fled into Kiziguro Catholic Church where he is now a gardener.

He says: “After the Tutsi in Murambi [had been killed], on April 10th Gatete held a meeting with us [Interahamwe militias] outside the Church courtyard and the resolution in the meeting was ‘kill them all.”

On the morning of April 11th at around 9am, the Interahamwe militias precisely carried out those instructions.

Kadunguri says he does not really know what made him listen to the evil commands of Gatete to kill Tutsis.

“He commanded us to kill before Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) advanced. And what can I say? I killed!” he says.

Holding the rope leading to hope

The only woman who survived the Kiziguro Parish massacre, Claudine Mukabideri was rescued from a pit of more than 30 meters long with eleven others by the RPA on April 14th.

Bodies of the people who were massacred in the church had been thrown in the pit that is about 200 metres away from the church.

Her description of April 11 is vague with the cold mist of death that was gorging on her life from the time she was at church, carried as dead and thrown into the pit where she lay dead for four days.

“There is no way I can explain what the situation was really like. What I can tell is that we ran when the Interahamwe chased us from our houses.

 There we were massacred and thrown into the abyss. The rest can be told by the RPA who rescued us,” she says.

She further says that after a week in the world of the dead, the RPA came to their rescue.

Mukabideri adds: “At my faintest breath I heard echoing calls above and saw vaguely, a rope coming down. It reached me, tied it around myself and I was pulled up like all the others who were still alive in the pit.”

In a family of seven including her parents, only Mukabideri and her elder sister survived.

She, as the rest of Genocide survivors in the former Murambi commune, believes her relatives are living in a “living” Rwanda.

“My people resurrected when Rwanda itself was liberated,” she said.

Mukabideri is now a mother of one and a cleaner at Kiziguro Hospital.

Fr. Rutinduka works with “Abizera Group” of eighty-five Genocide survivors including the six rescued from the pit. All work to teach people to “face history with hope” and “fight the Genocide ideology”.

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