On the 21 April 1994, between 40-50,000 Tutsi men, women and children sat huddled in buildings like these, at the school on a hillside in Murambi, Gikongoro province, Rwanda. They had been ordered here by the local mayor, and told they would be spared from the impending genocide.
However, they had been lied to, and had been deliberately herded into one place in order for the Hutu Interahamwe (‘those who attack together’) to murder them more easily. Roadblocks were set up in the surrounding area to prevent the possibility of escape. Many people who had come seeking refuge under government directions were murdered or raped before reaching the school. Local residents were invited to meetings in which the mayor asked villagers ‘for a hand in the war against the Tutsis’.
On April 21, at 3 am, the attack began. Tutsi refugees attempted to defend themselves but were quickly overpowered by heavily armed militiamen, government soldiers and local residents. Those who survived the initial attack, including the wounded, were finished off with machetes. No one was spared – men, women and children were brutally tortured, raped and killed for the crime of being of the wrong ethnicity.
In towns such as Gisenyi and Kibuye, near Lake Kivu, more than 90% of Tutsi people were murdered. They were perceived by the Hutu majority as a threat to power, and sporadic killings had occurred since independence from Belgium in the 1960’s. The Belgian Colonial powers had created the divide, by issuing identity cards to each ethnic group, and installing Tutsi people in positions of power.
Once the killing in Murambi was complete, the possessions of the dead were then looted, and the bodies bulldozed into freshly dug mass graves. Some were left in the school classrooms where they fell. At 11am, the Governor thanked everyone ‘for the work that had been accomplished’. Killings such as these, in schools, family homes and churches, occurred all throughout Rwanda during the genocide in 1994.
In 2004, I visited the school on the hillside of Murambi, where the bodies of thousands of people are still visible. They are preserved by lime, in the very place where they died. This is the way Rwanda remembers, a chilling reminder of a genocide which claimed the lives and loved ones of nearly a million people, and a warning that this should never happen again.