GAERG and AERG members pay homage to victims at the Mugombwa memorial site on April 19, 2016 (All Photos by Roger Rutindukanamurego)
GAERG and AERG members pay homage to victims at the Mugombwa memorial site on April 19, 2016 (All Photos by Roger Rutindukanamurego)

Within two days and about one-half hour of grenade explosions, a hilly region in southern Rwanda changed forever. It was April 20-21, 1994. The horrific massacre also led to conviction of the only women for rape. Welcome to Mugombwa catholic parish located about 5km from the Rwanda-Burundi border.

Mugombwa catholic parish was in Muganza commune, one of the 20 communes which formed the Butare prefecture. After the mass killings started in the Butare region around April 19, tens of thousands of Tutsis from surrounding villages sought refuge at the large and historic Mugombwa catholic parish.

Survivors from the ordeal and perpetratorsnarrated in the infamous “Butare Trial” at the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) how the massacre was planned and executed. Key among the actors was bougumester of Muganza communue, Elie Ndayambaje.

In December last year, after years of trial, the appeals court handed down 47-year sentence for the ex-local official.

And this past weekend, hundreds of genocide orphans made the painful journey back to the Mugombwa catholic parish, today in Mugombwa sector of Gisagara district, southern province.

The orphans are grouped under GAERG and AERG – both non-profit associations bringing together current and former students who survived the genocide against the Tutsi.

D-DAY Wednesday April 20, 1994

The orphans are conducting a national annual tour preceding the commemoration period in April. The 2016 tour started on March 12 in Bugesera district, then Gasabo district the following Saturday. GAERG and AERG will continue to Rubavu district – and end with Nyagatare district.

During the tour, the groups engage in various activities including building new houses for vulnerable genocide survivors. They also provide income generating projects for the survivors.

Emmanuel Uwiringiyimana is among the survivors of the carnage and still lives and works in the same area.

He narrated, “April 20 was a Wednesday, and the genocide had been launched in the Butare region the previous day April 19 by President Theodore Sindikubwabo in a speech made in Gisagara.”

Prosecution witnesses in the Butare trial told ICTR judges in March 2004 that soldiers and militia blasted Mugombwa parish church with grenades for an hour and a half.

The witness code-named “FAG” to protect his identity, said during cross-examination that the killers had been transported to the parish by the former mayor of Muganza, Eli Ndayambaje.

The mayor moved around the villages brandishing a photo and speaking on megaphone. His question to organised groups of militia was; “Do you know this person?” And his audience often repeated “umubyeyi wacu perezida Habyarimana” (our beloved father President Habyarimana).

President Habyarimana had been killed April 6. Local official Ndayambaje’s task was to convince the militia that they had to revenge his assassination by “Inyenzi” (cockroaches) – a derogatory reference to the RPF rebels and their alleged Tutsi collaborators.

“They were throwing grenades and bottles of petrol into the church”, explained one of the witnesses to ICTR judges, pointing out that he was among the group of attackers that included Burundian refugees living in the areas. “Those who survived the grenades were dragged out of the church and finished off”, added FAG.

2
Part of the Mugombwa catholic parish: In the far ground is Burundi – where tens of thousands of refugees had come from in 1993. Many settled along border – and would serve as force for execution of the genocide against Tutsis in the region

65,000 Burundian refugees

Witness FAG and others however, confirmed that the parish priest, only named as Father Titian, was not present during the attack. No Hutu was targeted during the massacres of Mugombwa, affirmed the witnesses. “It was us the Hutus who were hunting down Tutsis”, FAG for his part stated.

All witnesses who testified in the trial of Eli Ndayambaje confirmed that Burundian refugees formed the biggest bulk of the force that attacked the parish and surrounding villages.

Back in 1993, civil war had erupted in Burundi – and nearly 65,000refugees settled in various camps along the common border, according UN data from the time.

At the Mugombwa parish, the Burundian refugees were ferried in from one particular location – the Nyange camp, a short distance from the parish.

In a period of two days, there was nearly no life left at the large parish complex. Victims are laid to rest in a memorial site inside the parish. It counts 43,471 victims.

In addition to those killed within the parish compound, some 6,000 victims are at three different sites in the villages a few meters from parish.

The co-accused of bougumester Eli Ndayambaje in theButare trial were; Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former Minister for Family and her son, Arsen Shalom Ntahobali, two former Governors, Alphonse Nteziryayo and Sylvain Nsabimana and former Mayor, Joseph Kanyabashi.

Her son Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, and former mayor of Muganza Elie Ndayambaje, were sentenced to 47 years of imprisonment for each of them.

On December 14 last year, the ICTR appeals chamber upheld Pauline Nyiramasuhuko’s conviction for genocide and rape. She is the only woman convicted of the abuse of women.

Her son Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, and former mayor of Muganza Elie Ndayambaje, were sentenced to 47 years of imprisonment for each of them.

As concerns Nsabimana, was sentenced to 18 years in prison, Nteziryayo’s sentenced to 25 years, and Kanyabashi’s sentenced to 20 years.

Considering time already served, the Appeals Chamber ordered Nsabimana’s and Kanyabashi’s immediate release.

Meanwhile, back at the Mugombwa parish, the handful of Tutsi survivors can only look back to hell that broke loose 22 years ago when the very refugees they helped house – turned up to exterminate them.

During the national tour, GAERG and AERG are supporting vulnerable genocide survivors as well those who saved Tutsis, despite the risks they faced if caught
During the national tour, GAERG and AERG are supporting vulnerable genocide survivors as well those who saved Tutsis, despite the risks they faced if caught



Leave a Comment