1994 political victims left legacy to emulate

For Rwanda to be where it is today, national leaders had to draw lessons from some politicians who strived for a united country and were killed because of a cause they believed in, Senate president Jean Damascene Ntawukuliryayo has said.
Ntawukuliryayo (right) lays a wreath at Rebero memorial site yesterday
Ntawukuliryayo (right) lays a wreath at Rebero memorial site yesterday

For Rwanda to be where it is today, national leaders had to draw lessons from some politicians who strived for a united country and were killed because of a cause they believed in, Senate president Jean Damascene Ntawukuliryayo has said.

Ntawukuliryayo was yesterday speaking at the end of the seven-day national mourning in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. 

Tribute

In line with tradition, the commemoration week is concluded with paying tribute to political leaders killed in the Genocide at an event at Rebero Hill where the former politicians were laid to rest alongside 14,000 other victims of the ethnic cleansing. 

“The departed politicians dissented from the regime that planned massacring Tutsi; they strived for truth and unity. They wished for a better peaceful and united country, they stood firm and fought for that. Although they were killed, we have since realised the cause they fought and died for,” said Ntawukiriryayo. 

Most of those buried at the Rebero Genocide Memorial had sought refuge at Kigali Central Teaching Hospital (CHUK) as well as remains of people discovered in mass graves around Gikondo area. 

“These politicians strived for human rights, justice, unity and development and democracy and these have been our guiding principles in rebuilding the country,” said Ntawukuriryayo.

Legacy of politicians

The Senate president added that honouring the politicians serves to remind Rwandans of the legacy they left for their country and that it should be a moment to reflect on how far the Rwandan people have come in building a new and united nation. 

Some of the politicians whose remains are interred at the Rebero memorial site include Landouard Ndasingwa, former minister-designate; Venantie Kabageni, Charles Kayiranga, Andre Kameya, Aloys Niyoyita, Augustin Rwayitare and Jean de la Croix Rutaremara, all  members of the Liberal Party. 

Others are Joseph Kavaruganda, Frederic Nzamurambaho, Felicien Ngago, and Jean Baptiste Mushimiyimana, who were members of Social Democratic Party.  

The other is Faustin Rucogoza who was a member of the now disbanded Democratic Movement of Rwanda (MDR). 

Dr Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka, an umbrella organisation of Genocide survivors’ associations, said the politicians’ social and political life should be references for future generations to draw lessons from. 

“Among these politicians we honour, are men and women who pushed for the signing of the Arusha Peace Agreement. They stood strong and fought against hate media and the genocide ideology, this is why there is need to do an extensive research about them and develop educational materials for future generations.” 

Dusingizemungu gave an insight of the politicians he personally knew back then and their social lives saying they were role models in many aspects of life. 

Recognise saviours 

“When we talk about heroism, we are reminded of the Hutus who sacrificed themselves protecting the Tutsi. In Ibuka we believe these people should be recognised and their testimonies documented.  

“Actually, it would be better to have a special day of honoring these people. The lesson we draw from these people is the value to humanity,” he said.

The spokesperson of the Consultative Forum for Political Parties, Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana, narrated a history of the persecution of Tutsi through the decades leading up to the killings in 1994. 

“For more than 35 five years, the Tutsi were persecuted, tortured, denied their rights to citizenship and ruthlessly murdered in 1994.  Those who killed them subscribed to political parties and were politicians. I take this opportunity to apologise to Rwandans for the evil acts done in our name as politicians,” said Harerimana, who is also the minister of internal security.  

The Rebero commemoration event was also attended by representatives of diplomatic missions in Rwanda as well as the political representatives of political parties and families of the deceased. 

Most notable among the politicians is Lando, who was killed alongside his entire family and his memory is kept alive by his Hotel, Chez Lando, in Remera. 

Kavaruganda was the head of the Constitutional Court and found himself on a different side of the genocidal regime because of his dissenting views and refusal to be manipulated to amend the constitution to serve its interests. 

These were among the courageous few who could dare the regime that operated on threats to suppress the opposition by employing repressive methods that included killing, torture and imprisonment, according to Anicet Kayigema, the executive secretary of the parties’ forum. 

The reformists called for peace and reconciliation, pushed for talks and condemned the hate ideology that was spreading like wildfire at the time, perpetuated by Habyarimana and his henchmen. 

The slain politicians had the capacity to flee the country or even keep mum on the atrocities, but they chose to stand firm, eventually sacrificing their lives for the country, he said.  

Some were survived by young families whose only memories of their parents are the names engraved on tombstones.

‘Col. Bagosora killed them’

During the commemoration, Senator Jean Damascene Bizimana gave a detailed lecture of how the politicians were killed, singling out Col. Thenoneste Bagosora for the killings. 

Binzimana said the politicians are not victims of the genocide but rather crimes against humanity.

He said: “The murdered politicians are not victims of the genocide but rather victims of crimes against humanity since laws clearly explain that people murdered because of their ideology are victims of crimes against humanity.  The politicians killed in the genocide fell victims of their ideology not what they were.” 

Bagosora was sentenced to 35 years in jail by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for charges related to genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Bizimana said although genocide is characterised by systematic destruction of all or part of a racial, ethnic, religious or skin colour, crimes against humanity is equally a grave offence. 

“What is less talked about is that when those crimes where happening, there was also another plan of a coup led by a group that had named itself Hutu power led by Bagosora. On the night on April 6, 1994, the coup happened but it was leading to the grand plan of genocide,” said the Senator. 

He added that as Bagosora and his allies planned a coup, they had to first eliminate political threats such as Prime Minister Agatha Uwiringiyimana. Uwiringiyimana would have been the legal successor of Habyarimana in the transitional government.

“This was the same reason they killed Kavaruganda, who was the president of the constitutional court, since he would be the one to swear in the new president replacing Habyarimana,” he said.

In his plan to ensure complete elimination, Bizimana said prior to the shooting of the plane, Bagosora deployed soldiers at homes of all the opposition politicians so that they would be killed instantly as the coup takes place. 

“Bagosora planned all that knowing that he was the top military commander in the country since the minister of defense was on a mission in Cameroon, the army chief of staff, Gen. Deogratias Nsabimana, had died on the plane with Habyarimana. This coup was part of the grand plan to pave way for the genocide to kick off and also halt the Arusha peace talks,” said Bizimana.

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