Category Archives: rwanda

EIHR interview

On Friday, December 2, Drew Beiter and I gave an interview on genocide education and the work of the Educators’ Institute for Human Rights on WILI AM radio’s The Wayne Norman Show. To hear the interview, click on the link below (also posted to the right).


Leave a comment

Filed under Bosnia-Herzegovina, genocide education, holocaust, human rights, rwanda

Yom Hashoah Speech

We visited Kigali Prison before we left.  I have been unable to write about the experience, due to a need to process what had occurred. 

My friends at the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut asked me to speak for the Yom Hashoah service about my trip to Rwanda.  The theme from the USHMM for this year is “Justice and Accountability:  What Have We Learned?”  A transcript is posted below.  If you have been following the blog, much of what is in the speech is repetition, and for that I apologize.  The account of the prison experience, however, is the best I’m going to do for now: 

What Have We Learned?

Justice in Rwanda

If you have been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, you probably remember the shoes. The first time I encounter them was in 1987.  A travelling exhibition from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum stood in a library of the University of Pittsburgh.  An actress at the time, I was part of the cast for a play about events during the Holocaust, and we’d gone to the exhibit together.  Self-possessed and young, I naively thought I’d seen enough films and read enough books to “understand” the Holocaust.  Of course, no one can “understand” the Holocaust.  Confronting victims’ shoes for the first time was a lesson in humility I won’t ever forget. 

My most recent encounter with shoes occurred at Ntarama. This past July, I travelled with a delegation of Canadian educators to Rwanda with the purpose of bearing witness to that genocide for fellow educators here in the US.  We visited memorials, walked through genocide sites, listened to survivors, and worked hard together to process all that we were experiencing.  And once again, the shoes humbled us.

The Rwandan genocide began in April of 1994, when the plane carrying then President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down at Kigali Airport.  Over the next 100 days, between 500,000 and 800,000 Tutsis and Tutsi sympathizers were murdered by their Hutu neighbors and fellow citizens.

In the decades leading up to the genocide, Hutus perpetrated localized, sporadic acts of violence and killing against Tutsis, similar to pogroms in Eastern Europe.  In Nyamata, Ntarama, and Nyarabuye, Tutsi sought shelter in the villages’ Catholic churches and learned that these institutions provided sanctuary and safety in times of crisis. In other villages, the local school provided a safe-haven. Such was the case in Murambi and at L’Ecole Polytechnique. After the destruction and violence subsided, Tutsis returned to the remains of their homes and farms to rebuild what they could of their lives. 

In 1994, however, that changed.  This time, when Tutsis fled to the churches and schools, their sanctuary became their tomb.  Time and again, Hutu perpetrators and members of the Interahamwe militia gained access to the schools and churches, murdering all inside. 

Elderly witnesses to the Einsatzgruppen shootings in western Ukraine, near Lviv, reported to researcher and humanitarian Father Patrick Desbois, “The ground moved for three days afterward,” with the motion of those who had been buried alive. We heard this testimony echoed in the words of Rwandan survivors. 

In the wake of this national horror, Rwandans searched for a model on which to seek justice.  They started with the lessons learned from the tribunals at Nuremberg.  The international community, who had failed to respond to the genocide as it took place, did provide a platform for holding the most egregious of the genocidaires accountable.  The UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or ICTR, in Arusha, Tanzania, a neutral location still accessible to survivors and other witnesses who came to testify.  Rwanda’s Ambassador to Canada, Edda Mukabagwiza, explained the process to us prior to our departure, reflecting that while this solution provided an international forum that “forced the international community to witness that genocide had happened,” it was not a model that fit their culture and circumstances in a country comprised entirely of a population of either victims or perpetrators. 

125,000 suspects already sat awaiting trial in prisons built for less than half that number, and hundreds of thousands of other suspects were yet to be arrested.  Implementation of the death penalty, she argued, in conditions where the government used the people to commit genocide, thereby making everyone a collaborator, raised serious concerns.  Where would the execution of potentially over a million convicts leave the country?  Ambassador Mukabagwiza went on to point out, “If we turned Rwanda into a graveyard, the RPF resistance forces and the refugees will have nothing to come home to.”  Even long-term incarceration would prove detrimental to Rwanda in terms of the loss of labor and the imprisonment costs, and neither solution would help the victims in the form of restitution or reparations. Rwandans determined to create a new system: the gacaca courts, a hybrid of classic and traditional forms of justice. 

Traditional, tribal gacaca courts historically hold re-integration as their goal. Unequivocal responsibility for guilt and factual disclosure of the full truth must take place before any discussion of restitution to victims and re-integration begins.  Rwandans, according to the Ambassador, “have this collective knowledge of the genocide,” and “recognize that society must have harmony and tolerance to grow and be stable.” In this context, the gacaca courts allow Rwandans to self-determine their societal values. Perpetrators must fully confess, and then must complete community service for the victims, before they can be re-integrated into the community. It is not a panacea.  Concerns that the “greater good” supersedes the comfort of survivors are valid.  Rwandans take pride in telling visitors of the country’s stability, citing the economic growth and reduction of crime that has occurred recent years.  It was my experience, however, that tension lies just under the surface, and the heavy-handed governance of the former head of the RPF resistance forces, President Paul Kagame, keeps a lid on the potential for post-genocide violence. 

The day before our return trip home, we visited Kigali Prison.  30 perpetrators of the genocide, 20 men and 10 women, spent four hours answering our questions.  Among them: the former Mayor of Kigali, the president of Kigali’s Interahamwe unit, the Radio Mille Collines announcer who incited genocide on the air, a Kigali Airport official, and several farmers and trades-people.  The guards stood off in the corner, sometimes leaving the room entirely.  Our questions and their answers filtered through interpreters in both French and Kinyarwandan, giving us time to read their body language and facial expressions, and to take notes. 

Throughout the trip, the brutality against Tutsi women struck me.  Rape as a form of genocide, including deliberate infection of AIDS/HIV, dominated perpetrators treatment of females regardless of age.  Mukandoli Annonciata, a renowned beauty in Nyamata, refused an offer of marriage to a Hutu man as a means of salvation.  Hutu soldiers raped her and mutilated her body with metal spikes before killing her.  Mourners left her remains untouched until the tenth anniversary of the genocide, seven years ago, as a testament to the treatment of women.  Her remains now lay as if “in-state”, the memorial-flag draped coffin on view under glass. 

As we listened to the perpetrators give their testimony, we heard the rhythm of gacaca recitations.  Each would begin with an acknowledgement of guilt, proceed to a description of their crimes, and end by asking forgiveness from the survivors, from God, and from the community. Their accounts meandered between authentic and rehearsed.   I found myself hoping for accuracy in the adage that saying something often enough fosters belief in the statement as true. 

Finally, I could stand it no longer.  I had to ask about the women.  “Why wasn’t it enough just to kill them?” I asked.  “Why the brutality?”  The former mayor started to answer; it was a time of great chaos, no one really cared how they were killed as long as they were killed, and so on.  And then one woman broke ranks.  “He is giving you a man’s answer!” she sputtered, pointing accusingly, “I’ll tell you why!” We waited for what we hoped would be an unrehearsed response.

She persisted, “Tutsi women were exalted, noble.  We were told they were more beautiful, more desirable than Hutu women.  If a Hutu man wanted to advance in the world, he took a Tutsi wife. She was a ‘prize’.  The militia wanted them as possessions, and violated them out of payback.” This is how, she told us, Tutsi women became particular targets of vindictiveness. 

Before we could leave, both she and another woman, whom I now know to be Valerie Bamariki, the Radio Milles Collines announcer, insisted that we listen to something.  They asked us to tell Rwandan exiles, “Those of us accused have asked for forgiveness and have been well-treated.”    Ms. Bamariki demanded, “Who committed the worst crimes?  Who is most guilty?  The highest placed people are in exile. None have confessed.  The planners are outside of our country. Appeal to your governments to have them arrested.”

And so we are left to wonder, is there a Rwandan Adolf Eichmann living out his life in Belgium?  In Canada?  Here in the US?  One week ago, I read this online: 

“The United States government has implicated an elderly African man living in Kansas in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and accused him of concealing his role in the killings in order to win US citizenship. Lazare Kobagaya, 82, is charged with lying on immigration and citizenship forms, and the US justice department wants to revoke his citizenship. If convicted, Kobagaya faces up to 10 years in prison and deportation from the US.

The US government’s strategy in the case mirrors its prosecution of suspected Nazi guard John Demjanjuk, who settled in Ohio after the Second World War.”      

          Much work remains to be done.  Between the International Tribunal for Rwanda and the gacaca courts, Rwandans have taken the template for seeking justice offered at Nuremberg and tailored it to their own culture and values.  A perfect system of justice has yet to be found, but this one has, to a great extent, succeeded in meeting the goals Rwandans set out for themselves.  They have, in the words of Regina Spiegel, the Holocaust survivor at the opening of [this year’s Yom Hashoah film], lived up to the ideal for “Justice, yes.  Vengeance, no.”


Filed under genocide education, holocaust, human rights, rwanda, Uncategorized


Some call Bisesero “Rwanda’s Warsaw Ghetto Uprising”, and it is known locally as the “Hill of Resistance.”  From the start of the genocide until late April, the Tutsi at Bisesero used stones and lances to protect themselves on the sides of this steep, rocky hill.  Over 50,000 came from around the region.  As the Hutu came to realize the strength of the Tutsi defense, they called for the Interahamwe to bring in troops trained by the French military, reputed to have the capacity to kill 1,000 people in twenty minutes. 

By May 13, 1994, the Interahamwe had arrived from surrounding areas.  Those planning the genocide told area villagers that the Tutsi were cockroaches and snakes, and they had come to “kill the animals.”  The defenses at Bisesero were broken down, and over the next two days, nearly all of the Tutsi at Bisesero were exterminated. 

When French troops arrived as part of Operation Turquoise, the approximately 3,000 survivors still protected by the hill and fighting off assaults came out of hiding, believing these soldiers to be “saviors.”  In fact, they’d been brought by the Interahamwe to assist in the attack.  The French soldiers told the Tutsi to go back into hiding, and they’d return in three days to provide support and assistance.  Having now revealed Tutsi positions to the Interahamwe, the French departed.  The Interahamwe double their attack, targeting the locations exposed by the French intervention.  By June 30, there were 1,000 survivors left. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The French evacuated the wounded survivors to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), while healthy survivors remained in French custody in place.  By this time, the Interahamwe forces were fleeing the RPF troops working their way south.

Our guides at Bisesero were survivors, young men who were adolescents at the time of the genocide.  They had been to the medical facilities in Zaire.  One of them, twelve at the time, suffered a gunshot wound in his leg.  He reported that the French were forcing amputation of arms and legs for the most minor of injuries.  He refused to have his leg amputated.  It has healed, and he walks unimpaired today.  His brother was one of those held in place by the French, and it is his testimony that the survivors were not fed during their time in captivity. 

On our way to and from Bisesero, we passed the entryway to a UN Refugee Camp for those escaping the violence currently taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  According to Charles, our guide from the Commission for the Fight Against Genocide, the camp currently serves over 19,000 people.

Leave a comment

Filed under genocide education, holocaust, human rights, rwanda

Father Desbois

Father Patrick Desbois, author of the book The Holocaust by Bullets, spoke at the University of Hartford last night.  This book inspired much of my inquiry in Ukraine in 2009, and sparked discussion with host teachers and friends in Hadiach.  Hearing him speak about it last night resonated closely with Emmanuel’s experiences during the massacre at Murambi.   

Site of an Einsatzgruppen shooting in Hadiach, Ukraine

Elderly witnesses to the Einsatzgruppen shootings in western Ukraine, around Lvov, affirmed to Father Desbois, “The ground moved for three days afterward,”  with the motion of those who had been buried alive. 

We work on understanding these events, immerse ourselves in history, attempt to process what we’ve learned, and still the parallels can be a slap in the face.

Leave a comment

Filed under genocide education, holocaust, rwanda

Murambi part II

This entry is graphic.  Please proceed with awareness.

“Operation Turquoise” is the name assigned to the French peace-keeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide.  Our guide tells us “The French government was lying.  They had foreknowledge of everything.  They sent support against the RPF, trained the Interahamwe.  They knew the intention.”  They made a volleyball court at Murambi, near the quarters where French forces were housed.  The court stood over one of the mass graves.  Since the graves were shallow, the guide doesn’t believe that the soldiers could have been unaware; the smell would have been too strong.  He said, “Regarding Tutsi, the French soldiers took them as enemies.”  We visited this area third, after walking through the classrooms where the remains lay.

The Memorial Centre at Murambi was not yet officially opened when we visited.  Fences around the site are not complete, and the reception area doesn’t have reliable water for public facilities as yet.  At the end of August, 1995, they started to exhume bodies for proper re-burial, and in 1998 there was a major exhumation with an eye toward memorialization. 

Visitors who do come, even before the official opening, are primarily from outside Rwanda.  The US has the highest attendance, followed by Canada and the United Kingdom.  Rwandans are fourth, and they are mostly either high school students, delegations from public institutions, or members of survivor organizations.  We were told that many Rwandans do not come, that many Hutu do not wish to see the memorial and do not permit their children to come. 

When asked about the relationship between the memorial and the surrounding villages, it seems this is a developing situation.  Village citizens were here before, during, and after the genocide, and the population likely includes perpetrators and collaborators.  There was no representation from the village at the 15th anniversary commemoration.  The guide speculated that some felt guilty and some ashamed about what occurred there. He said, “I am not happy with the education of these children.  They take the presence of the bodies as ‘normal’.”  The fences need to be finished, he said, “to protect the Centre from Hutu vandals, or those who want to destroy the Centre.” 

 We ended our tour at the last mass graves to be exhumed.  I was asked to present a gift on behalf of the group, a sun-catcher with hummingbirds for our guide. He reciprocated with a lapel pin from the Commission for the Fight against Genocide, a white circle with a purple flame in the center. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Following the walk of the grounds, Emmanuel sat with us in a classroom in the reception area and shared his testimony. 

The Tutsi, he said, did not go to the school voluntarily.  Local leaders told them of an impending charge, preceding which houses were burned down.  People in surrounding villages left their homes and their belongings.  The first came from the immediate district.  The bishop of the church, the governor of the province, the director of the tea company, and some surrounding mayors came in the evening and held meetings in houses in the village.  After those meetings, they asked the Tutsi to come to the school for refuge, food, and safety.  Many were hungry and had children to think of.  Some village elders went to the Bishop, reported what had happened in other villages, that the Interahamwe was coming to kill them.  Gendarmes escorted more that 55,000 to the school.  The villagers wanted to fight back, but the gendarmes told them, “not today.”  Shortly after that, the water lines were cut.

The Bishop asked for a head count, sending a woman named Madeline from Catholic Charities, ostensibly for the purpose of providing enough supplies.  In reality, preparations for the attack on the Tutsi at Murambi were underway.  The Interahamwe wanted a count for the killing.  (According to Shyrna, one of the Canadian group leaders, Madeline denies that genocide took place.  She claims the bodies currently at Murambi were transported from a Hutu refugee site in Congo.)

April 18 the shooting and grenade attacks started.  The Tutsi fought back with rocks, bricks, and other building supplies around the grounds.  The Hutu retreated and regrouped, holding planning meetings to determine their next strategy.  Around 3:00 AM, the hill was surrounded.  The Tutsi had positioned the men in the front to defend against another charge, and the women and children were in the rear.  By 9:00 AM, Emmanuel said, “The hill was covered in bodies.”  People who tried to run were attacked with machetes.  Emmanuel was shot, fell, and remained unconscious for about an hour.  When he awoke, he saw soldiers taking clothing from the bodies, leaving them naked on the hillside.  On observing babies still attempting to nurse from their mothers, he heard soldiers say, “We don’t have time to kill these babies…just bury them.” 

Emmanuel stayed on the hill until nightfall.  When he attempted to escape to the forest, he saw many injured Tutsi who could not run or walk.  Some asked him to kill them, but he could not. 

The next day, from the forest, he saw that the Ministry of Transportation (Public Works) sent machines to dig mass graves.  They buried the bodies in these graves, many still alive.  Emmanuel heard someone crying, “We’ll never do it again!  We’ll never do it again!” 

Once the bodies were in the mass graves, the Hutu used dogs to find Tutsi in hiding.  “God helped me find the way to Burundi,” Emmanuel claims.  Soldiers there removed the bullet and gave him medical care. 

French soldiers were no help, he said.  They assisted in discovering Tutsi hiding in the woods, some of whom had stated intent to join the RPF.  These men were collected by the French and dropped from helicopters. 

Emmanuel closed with these words:  “I was born here, I lived with the neighbors, but they are the neighbors who killed us.  There was intermarriage.  But during genocide, if your wife is Hutu, she can go to the Sisters with the children.  The Hutu told us, ‘We want to kill everyone so that we see no more faces that are Tutsi.’”

Leave a comment

Filed under genocide education, holocaust, human rights, rwanda

Emmanuel at Murambi


This entry is graphic.  Please proceed with awareness. 

Emmanuel’s countenance is familiar to visitors of the USHMM website.  His portrait appears on the opening page of the Rwanda section on the From Memory to Action online installation and on the pledge cards in the museum itself.  He also appears as an interview subject in the documentary, Shake Hands with the Devil.  It is his life’s purpose to be present at this site for two reasons:  to remain close to his wife and five children, murdered here, and to extend human connection to the site’s visitors.


Spending the afternoon with Emmanuel fulfilled the primary purpose of making the voyage to Rwanda.  This gentle soul embodies both the loss and the humanity of the genocide.  Our “official” guides provided eloquent history and more than competent assistance.  Emmanuel, however, simply stayed quietly nearby as we moved through the buildings.  One of our teachers found the encounter too much to bear.  When she sat down to collect herself, Emmanuel came to her with a comforting embrace.

He arrived by bicycle.  His figure peddling up the red dirt road was unmistakable, even from a distance.  He came directly to us, prepared to answer questions we might pose.   I shared that my students each year ask, “Is he OK?”, because a bullet wound to his head is graphically evident in his photos.  “No” was Emmanuel’s subdued reply, “my family is buried here.  I lost everyone.”    The bullet wound is the least of what harmed him, it seems.

We arrived at the site a bit early.  Emmanuel arrived while we were waiting to go in, as did a truckload of prisoners for a work project.  It is likely that at least some of these prisoners perpetrated the genocide.  They piled out of the truck, the pink and orange uniforms contrasting the green fields in which they worked.  Standing next to Emmanuel as we watched them set about their tasks caused my stomach to churn.

He gave us permission to take photos with him.  This led to some lighter conversation, and as we finished, I offered him one of the Obama Inauguration buttons I had brought as gifts.  He looked at it intently, studying the face and nodding, “Ah, Barack Obama!”  Emmanuel’s entire face broke into a smile as he laughed, asking, “You are from the United States?”   Not a surprising question, given that I was the lone American traveling with a delegation of Canadian teachers.  As I confirmed my nationality, he pinned the button to his jacket, thanked me profusely, and wore it the rest of the day.

All of the memorial sites we visited included a display of cleaned skulls and leg bones, as evidence of what occurred.  Murambi’s exceptionality lies in the preservation of human remains that are not fully decomposed.  For this reason, the staff must go to the classrooms containing the victims and open them to air flow for at least thirty minutes prior visitation.  As we waited, my friend Heather commented, “It’s a very weird feeling, sitting here waiting for the smell of death to clear.”

There are five areas to this memorial site.  The first is the reception area, including mass grave sites and gardens.  Second are the classrooms:  four buildings with six rooms each, terraced on the hillside with doors opening to a view of the valley.  Third is the “area of the French Soldiers”, part of Operation Turquoise.  Fourth, there is a display of the victims’ clothing, and finally, the “last mass grave”.

As at other sites, we were given a brief history of events there to start:  Murambi is located in the Southern Prefecture.  The buildings on site were under construction at the time; it was to be a new technical school.  When the genocide began, Tutsi were told to go there for safety.  In reality, the local gendarmes wanted a collecting place for victims.   Some Hutu tried to hide Tutsi, but they also were told that Murambi would be safe and let their friends leave, believing they would be protected.

On April 9, the Interahamwe cut the water pipes, making living conditions nearly impossible.  On April 18, the killings began. Interahamwe officers pulled all units in the sector to this site, murdering over 50,000 people between the hours of 4:00 and 10:00 in the morning.  “This hill is an island,” the guide pointed out.  After that first day, the militia encircled it to track those attempting escape.  The killings continued until all but a handful of people survived.  There are only seven known survivors of the massacres at Murambi, including Emmanuel.  A Murambi perpetrator stated in an interview that they “couldn’t kill everyone.  Many were only injured and buried alive.”  The mass graves of these victims tightly limited the bodies’ exposure to oxygen, prohibiting decomposition.  From among them are the human remains laid out in the classrooms.

About a week before I left for Rwanda, my friend Henny, a survivor of Riga ghetto and Stuttof concentration camp, held a small picnic at her farm.  Former students, a colleague from the high school, and I were gathered to meet Henny’s new friend Ben, a Dachau liberator.  He shared his experiences with us, brought artifacts and photographs, and reminded us all of the importance of bearing witness.

We entered the rooms at Murambi in small groups. Some of us stood on the hillside above as the groups in front filed into the first room, the second, and so on.  I looked up at Emmanuel, seated on a rock between the buildings, and I thought of Ben.  “These bodies can speak themselves,” our guide told us, “You will know that genocide is genocide.”  He implored us to be strong, but to leave if we needed to.  I became determined, reflecting, “If Ben could bear to witness Dachau, then I certainly can bear to look on all of this.” While I certainly don’t compare my experience to his, I do look to him as an example of what we’re all called to do.  I inhaled as much fortitude as my lungs allowed, and followed my friends into the first room.

Everything we’ve heard, all the clichés about the smell of death, are true.  Even now, the smell coats the inside of my thoughts in a fine dust.  To take in that air is to breathe in the genocide.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In another room, it was a woman’s hand with her wedding ring still around her finger.  By the time we reached the fourth building, having seen eighteen rooms, the trivial thought, “Oh my word, there’s more,” flitted through my brain.  Of course there were more.  I was humbled to recognize that as much as we’d seen, we weren’t even encountering one percent of the number of people lost in just this site.

We were at Murambi for a long time after this.  Emmanuel shared his experiences, and we saw the rest of the areas.  I need to stop here, though.  I will continue with the rest of the experience in another entry.

On the bus, about an hour after we’d left, I realized that in order to keep myself from sobbing, to stay strong and bear witness, I’d furrowed my brow in a tight knit.  I hadn’t relaxed my forehead for several hours.  A pounding headache set in, and I thanked goodness for ibuprofen.

1 Comment

Filed under genocide education, holocaust, human rights, rwanda, Uncategorized


photo by Landon Orchard

photo by Landon Orchard

Sunday, July 25 we travelled to Nyarabuye, which, in the years since the genocide, has become a site of contrition for world leaders. It is featured in the Frontline documentary, Ghosts of Rwanda, and its predecessor, Valentina’s Nightmare (no longer readily available for viewing, but a link to the page on the PBS website has been added on the right. It is a phenomenal teaching resource).

This entry is graphic. Please continue with awareness.

In the area local to the church, the population was dominantly Tutsi. Tutsi from nearby communities, including Kabunga, 35 kilometers away, came to the church at Nyarabuye for shelter and refuge, many with the intent of fleeing for Tanzania. As more people arrived, including locals, people developed a false sense of security and decided to stay.

Even after the crash of President Habyarimana’s plane, the Hutu and Tutsi communities in the immediate region worked together, going so far as to form a resistance movement against the Interahamwe. Secret meetings began taking place, however, with one group of Hutus fearful because the number of Tutsi was so high. This group didn’t act immediately; they were unclear about an “official” start date for the genocide.

On April 14, 1994, police began separating Hutu from Tutsi. Tutsi were ordered to remove their clothes. The commander killed one man, then gave the order for only Tutsi to be killed. Tutsi remaining in the open, including those who had been part of the resistance, now fled to the church. The district’s mayor came to the church and ordered the Tutsi to remain where they were for their own protection. In reality, he was gathering them for mass murder.

After giving us this brief historical overview, our guide led us into the grounds of the former convent. It was a beautiful, bucolic little courtyard, filled with trimmed grass, lovely pathways, and a few fruit trees. The brick work on the walls and arches was European in appearance, and I was reminded of the Cloisters courtyard at the northern-most tip of Manhattan.

Inside the convent, we found artifacts from the genocide. It began on April 14 and was over in three days. At this site, the Interahamwe were meticulous about making sure that everyone was actually dead, broadcasting ground chili powder over the bodies. If someone sneezed or if tears ran from their eyes, they were discovered and killed.

I found this next account very difficult to reconcile. We were shown a hollowed out log, lying on its side like a canoe. Traditionally, this is a method for making banana beer. During the genocide, the perpetrators reportedly collected victims’ blood in this vessel and left it for a few days to see if it would turn into milk. I couldn’t comprehend why they would actually expect that outcome, but I was told that the propaganda and stereotyping of Tutsi as cattle herders led Hutu to believe that because the Tutsi drank so much milk, their blood might have milk in it. I could comprehend the barbarism for its own sake, given the context, but wondered about this “logical” justification…can they actually have believed that the blood would turn to milk, or were they simply using it as a rationalization for the cruelty? I tend to think the latter, but am told absolutely that the former is true.

This site also saw cannibalism used as a form of genocide, including the employment of meat grinders. The ovens in the courtyard, previously used by the nuns to bake bread, were now used to cook this “meat”. Hearts were roasted separately and consumed by the perpetrators. The most notorious, nicknamed “Simba” was said to “eat people as if he ate the meat of cows or goats”. Simba died shortly after the genocide; he supposedly slipped into Tanzania and was killed there in some kind of fight.

Finally, once again women and girls were targeted in the same manner they had been at other genocide sites. The larger latrine stalls were used for the purpose of rape, and the smaller latrine pits were used for the disposal of the bodies of infants and small children.

A memorial now stands in Nyarabuye. About 16,000 of the dead have been identified. The remaining 35,000 are in mass graves, created in 1995 to prevent disease and desecration by animals, which memorial workers are in the process of exhuming in the hopes of discovering the victims identities. The nuns left for Tanzania, and there is a statue of Christ which is kept with the skulls inside the convent. The Hutu treated the statue in the same manner as the Tutsi, cutting off its head and shooting away the arms. The Catholic diocese refuses to allow the church itself to be used as a memorial, even though much of the killing occurred within its walls; it is today an active church with regular services.

Of the total 51,000 victims of genocide at Nyarabuye, only eleven are known to have survived.


Filed under genocide education, holocaust, human rights, rwanda