Rwanda marks 11th anniversary of genocide

Rwanda marks the anniversary of the 1994 genocide today with the beginning of a week of mourning for the more than 500,000 people who died in a frenzy of killing that remains fresh in the minds of the survivors.

Rwanda marks the anniversary of the 1994 genocide today with the beginning of a week of mourning for the more than 500,000 people who died in a frenzy of killing that remains fresh in the minds of the survivors.

For Catherine Umutoni, 27, April always brings tears and memories of her 13 relatives who were killed by Hutu extremists in 100 days of massacres.

“What did you give to survive until now,” she sang while she cried, reciting the Kinyarwandan lyrics of a song about the genocide.

She is just one of thousands of genocide survivors scarred by the traumatic government-orchestrated pogrom who remain homeless and unemployed with little hope for the future. She has one child, the result of a rape that took place during the massacre of her family. She was spared by her attacker afterwards.

“Living with this child is a great test for me, but she is my blood, I have to take care of her,” Umutoni said of her daughter.

She said the child’s father, the “destroyer of my body and soul”, left her with a hatred of all men and that she would never remarry.

The genocide started within hours after the president’s plane was mysteriously shot down over Kigali late on April 6, 1994. Hutu militiamen, known as interahamwe, set up roadblocks across Kigali and on April 7 began hunting down Tutsis and moderate Hutus and killing them.

President Juvenal Habyarimana had been pressed to implement a power-sharing accord with the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front after three years of civil war. The top military leaders of Habyarimana’s government put into action a plan to kill all the remaining Tutsis in the country of seven million. Tutsis were estimated to make up 14% of the population.

The organisers of the genocide, many of whom have since been convicted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, used the radio to order Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbours and direct the slaughter.

Umutoni heard her father’s name read over the radio on April 7 as an enemy of the state.

“To me, the announcement meant the end of my life on earth,” she said.

The 5,000 Tutsis in Rwamagana fled their homes and gathered at a Catholic school. The interahamwe would come to the school, and killed and raped over several days. Only 200 Tutsis escaped, among them Umutoni.

“I saw many of my neighbours among the militia, it was incredible, I couldn’t believe it, and what took me by surprise is that many were staunch Christians,” she said.

The main commemoration of the genocide this year will be the reburial today of 20,000 victims who were dumped in mass graves in Nyakizu district. Every year, the government conducts similar reburials as a gesture to give dignity to those killed.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox