THE REFUGEE: "It was like hell, blood everywhere"

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 4 April 2014 10:13 GMT

Themis Hakizimana: “In November 1994, I decided to come back to Rwanda because I didn’t participate in the genocide. I had no Tutsi enemy, I had no Hutu enemy. I had no desire to stay in Congo." Photo taken in Kigali, March 2014. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Katy Migiro

Image Caption and Rights Information
A Rwandan journalist recalls the trauma of the ethnic divide during and after the genocide

KIGALI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Themis Hakizimana was working at the national television station in Kigali at the start of the genocide. When the army started forcibly recruiting Hutu, he fled but there was no escape from the violence.

"When the president’s plane was shot down, I was broadcasting a football match. A journalist came in the studio and told me: ‘The world is over.’ He told me our president (Juvenal Habyarimana) was killed.

"A few minutes later, some presidential guards came in and told us to stop broadcasting. They took us to the airport with our cameras.

"At the airport, we saw Belgian soldiers sitting on the tarmac. They had been disarmed and were being guarded by many Rwandan soldiers. They believed the Belgians had given information to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP), who were fighting the government, to shoot down the plane.

"I wanted to film but the soldiers said: ‘We will shoot you.’ A senior commander came and told us to leave the airport.

"The streets were empty except for soldiers. They stopped a guy with his family in a Mitsubishu and they wanted to shoot him. He said: ‘No, I’m innocent!’

"We wanted to see what was happening. They said: ‘Go! Otherwise we will kill you!’

"At around 1am, the shooting started. We phoned people and they were saying there were scared and others had been killed.

"Soldiers came to the TV station. They started harassing the Tutsi journalists, telling them that they had killed President Habyarimana, telling them to join the RPF.

"The first footage I saw was horrible. My colleague brought a cassette he’d filmed. It was a woman. She was slaughtered, with blood everywhere. She took around 10 minutes to die. He filmed that woman until she died.

"The first film I shot was in a market. A bomb landed and many people died. I could not tell the difference between the goods and blood and people.

"Our TV station collaborated with the soldiers. When we filmed, we’d go to the office and give our footage to the director. The soldiers came and talked to him and took everything.

"I stayed at the station for about four weeks. It was not possible to go home.

"One day, the RPF fired more than 5,000 bombs. Many people got killed. Then the soldiers and the politicians started to push people to join the army by force. I decided I had to leave.

"On the radio, they said that my older brother, who was a soldier, was a Tutsi. They gave an order to kill him. He’s a Hutu but he looks Tutsi.

"We went north to Gisenyi where another brother was living. I saw bodies everywhere and houses burning. We had to travel at night so that they could not see his face. They saw his military uniform and let us pass.

"The genocide was very bad in Gisenyi too. We were living five kilometres from a Catholic church where they slaughtered more than 5,000 people. People were saying: ‘It’s the end of the world. People have been killed in the church.’

"I said: ‘No, it’s not possible that a man could kill another in a church.’

"I went to see. When I reached the door, I couldn’t enter. It was like hell, blood everywhere. Dead children, men and women, blood on the walls.

"In August, the RPF came to Gisenyi. They were firing bombs. The Habyarimana government told us the RPF was killing everyone. They said: ‘You have to go. They are coming and they will kill you, even the animals.’

"We crossed the border into Congo (then Zaire). The Congolese soldiers took everything we had.

"We tried to go to a refugee camp to get something to eat, but it was too dangerous. The militias and the soldiers were targeting people to kill. They came to see who was coming for food.

"Imagine a camp with 2 million people, with all their stuff, with animals. There was cholera and many died. I saw the machine lifting bodies like dust, putting them in mass graves.

"I saw hundreds of dead bodies with people passing by, not paying attention. It was normal. You’d see a dead body here, a family cooking there, another dying over there.

"The Interahamwe (Hutu militia) continued to kill many people in the camps. You could get killed like a fly. They even killed Hutus just to take their money.

"Nowhere was safe. We were like people without hope.

"The United Nations did not know what to do. It took so long to bring shelters, to bring food, even to bring doctors.

"In November 1994, I decided to come back to Rwanda because I didn’t participate in the genocide. I had no Tutsi enemy, I had no Hutu enemy. I had no desire to stay in Congo.

"I had some friends, and they told me: ‘We are going to give you some letters. Take them to Rwanda and tell people there we are okay.’ They deceived me.

"When I reached the border of Gisenyi, the soldiers found those letters and read them. They said: ‘You’re collaborating with the militias.’ They put me in jail for four days and interrogated me.

"When they released me, I came back to Kigali. It was like the end of the world, or a hundred years after the end of the world. All the houses were destroyed. There were many bodies in the bushes, even in houses.

"Kigali was taken by the RPF in July. But most of the bodies were not collected. Dogs had eaten them. Many people had fled. No one was left to clean up.

"Everybody was in trauma, both sides. The Hutu were scared of the RPF. They were saying: ‘Tomorrow we will get killed.’ And Tutsis were living in tension due to the genocide.

"I went back to work. I got paid in food, not money.

"In 1995, the militias started a rebellion across almost the whole country. Tension rose until about 1998. It was horrible. I covered many stories of hundreds of people slaughtered in villages.

"Now I’m ready to die anytime. As a human, I can fear death, but not for long. Now I know that I can die anytime."

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.