THE SURVIVOR: "Why are you killing us? We used to be friends"

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 2 April 2014 10:02 GMT

Jeanette Mukabyagaju: “They chose people to kill according to their level: how strong you are, how educated, how rich. Most of the time, they chose people from the area they belonged.” Photo taken in Mbyo, Rwanda, Marchl 21, 2014. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Katy Migiro

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The attackers came with guns, machetes and nail-studded clubs, one survivor recalls

MBYO, Rwanda – Jeanette Mukabyagaju was 15 and living with her parents and six older siblings in Gitarama, 50 km from Kigali, when the genocide started in April 1994. She recalls the night Hutu extremists first came to her home and the slaughter that followed.

"On April 8, we were in the house getting ready to sleep, when we heard people in the village making a lot of noise. They said: ‘The Tutsis killed President Habyarimana and now we are going to kill the Tutsis.’

"When we looked outside, they were already there, throwing stones at our house. ‘It’s over for us,’ my father said.

"Four of us ran outside at first, and hid among the banana trees. Our parents stayed in the house. They said they didn’t have anywhere to hide.

"At dawn, the villagers came back. They were still shouting: ‘The Tutsis killed our father (Habyarimana). We are going to kill them too.’

"They entered the house and told everyone they had found there to go outside.

"They were many. Some were soldiers, some Interahamwe (extremist Hutu militias), others were our neighbours. Some had guns and machetes. Others had nail-studded clubs. They called them ntampongano yumwanzi, meaning ‘no forgiveness’.

"I was hiding in the back, in the toilet. My brother, Jean Baptist, had also run out the house. I don’t know where he went.

"They told my family to sit down. They shot some. Others, they killed with machetes. I didn’t see them die but I heard them crying and the sound of bullets.

"I heard my 17-year-old brother Eugene ask them: ‘Why are you killing us? We used to be friends.’

"When they finished, I ran to my family. I saw Dad, Mum, my two sisters and two brothers. They were already dead.

"I saw Eugene. They had cut his back, then his neck. His head was still on his neck but he couldn’t hold it up. I could see he was going to die. I touched him. But I wasn’t able to pick him up and carry him away. I don’t know if he was able to recognise me because we didn’t talk.

"I went back to the banana trees to hide.

"On the second day, they came back and cut him again. They didn’t kill him. They left him and went to kill others.

"On the third day, they came back and they cut his body in two. When he died, I ran away.

"Our house was rubble. They took everything we had and destroyed the house.

"A dozen uncles, aunts and grandparents had neighbouring houses within our compound. I never went to see them because I knew they were already dead. I saw their houses were destroyed so I knew they had been killed.

"I went to the Catholic church in Kabwayi, two hours away. I found other refugees there - almost 5,000 women, men and children. People were coming from many places. I knew some of them from our village.

"I slept outside the church for two weeks. The rain was too much.

"Our clothes were wet and we were shivering because of the cold but there was nothing we could do. We drank rainwater but we didn’t eat anything for two weeks.

"When the monsignor came, he told us to get out. He said: ‘Your Tutsi God has already left you. Your Tutsi God has said that you must die. I don’t want you here because (the Interahamwe) will destroy my church.’

"He was a Rwandan. I believed that we were going to die.

"The Interahamwe came and chased everyone out. They killed some of the refugees.

"After that, we went to a monastery. We were about 3,000 people, all Tutsi.

"Some injured soldiers came there. One had a cut hand. He said a Tutsi cockroach cut his hand. He told me: ‘You see how your brother cockroach cut my hand. We are going to kill you too.’

"But when the soldiers came, other people hid me. They piled clothes on top of me and sat on me. Even now, my back hurts. I can’t farm or carry heavy things.

"We had been there one month when the Interahamwe came and took some of the Tutsi monks and killed them. We saw some being killed in front of our eyes. Others, they put in buses and took them to Ngororero to kill them there.

"The Tutsi monks brought us maize once a week. After they were killed, there were still some Hutu monks there but they never gave us food. We were living a very bad life.

"The Interahamwe looked like animals. Some wore normal clothes, but many were wearing banana leaves. They made them into skirts and put them on their heads and over their faces so you couldn’t recognise them.

"They chose people to kill according to their level: how strong you are, how educated, how rich. Most of the time, they chose people from the area they belonged.

"I used to hide in the toilet because most of them came from my village. They were saying: ‘In the family of Ngarukiyeitura Gaspard, (my father) there are two people we didn’t kill.’

"Most people were tired with running all the time. They said: ‘It’s better to be dead than to be alive.’ They were sitting, waiting.

"I knew that, one day, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) would come. Better that I hide. Maybe I will survive, I thought.

"There were some RPF soldiers among the refugees. They were there to tell people: ‘Be patient. The RPF are coming.’

"After two months, the RPF came to town - it was May 30 - but they didn’t take all of the town.

"On June 2, we heard bullets and a lot of fighting. We thought it was the Habyarimana soldiers coming to kill us. We took stones. We said: ‘If they come, they will kill us. But we will kill some of them too.’

"At two o’clock, soldiers entered the compound and we saw they were RPF.

"We were only 1,000. The others had already been killed."

Four months later, Jeanette returned home and reclaimed her family land. In 1995, she married. Her husband, Elias, an RPF soldier, was killed three years later in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


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