Memorials in Rwanda

One sees more skulls in Rwanda than in any other country in the world. They are displayed publicly as a reminder of the horror of the genocide in spring of 1994. They came from the Nyamata Memorial, located about 30 kilometers south of the Kigali capital. The human remains of 50,000 murder victims were buried at this site. The memorial is one of six national commemorative sites in Rwanda. There are more than 250 registered memorials in Rwanda dedicated to the 1994 genocide.

Credit: Fanny Schertzer / CC BY-SA

Kigali Genocide Memorial

The “Wall of Names” in the Kigali Genocide Memorial will never be totally complete: of the 250,000 people who were buried here in collective graves, only a small number have yet to be identified. Their corpses were found on the streets of the Rwanda capital of Kigali in 1994.  

In 2004, with foreign support, a national memorial site was established next to the graves. It includes a modern permanent exhibition, an educational center, a garden of reflection and a monument dedicated to the murdered children. In addition to the genocide in Rwanda, the exhibition also addresses the history leading up this event and similar events in other countries. The remains of victims and murder instruments are also on display. Explanations are provided to visitors through an audio guide. The memorial is managed by Aegis Trust, an organization in Great Britain involved in the prevention of genocide. It does this on behalf of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG).


Website of the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Former Website of the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Website of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide


After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison

A project at the Department of Modern History at the University of Würzburg

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With financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development 

Murambi Genocide Memorial

Lime has been used to prevent this body from decomposing. About 850 corpses are preserved in this manner to allow them to be displayed in classrooms of a former school near Murambi.

Several thousand Tutsis fled into this building in April 1994. After five days, Hutu militias stormed it and killed an estimated 43,000 people with machetes, spears and clubs. The mass graves in which they were later buried were opened a year later. Now parts of the dead were presented alongside the bones, skulls and clothing in the genocide memorial in the south of Rwanda. In 2017, conservators from Germany helped the locals conserve the shriveling corpses. Forensic doctors documented the victims’ injuries.

Ntarama Genocide Memorial

The benches are neatly aligned in this church in the Bugesera district, about a one-hour car ride to the south of Kigali. But the shelves on the back wall of this former Catholic church are jarring because they contain a dense collection of human skulls.

In 1994, about 5,000 people sought safety in the brick building. On April 15, Hutu paramilitary forces carried out a bloodbath and literally butchered the people seeking refuge. Today, individual pieces of clothing from the victims hang on the walls of the Ntarama Genocide Memorial. It is believed that babies were killed in the building behind the church and their blood subsequently smeared on the walls. In front of the church building, stone coffins for the dead were placed in front of the church building, creating a place for relatives and visitors to lay flowers.




Bisesero Genocide Memorial

These human skulls serves as a horrific reminder of the events that took place in the Bisesero settlement in the west of Rwanda. Approximately 40,000 people in this area were murdered in 1994.

The Tutsi sought help from the French peace troops that were stationed nearby. But the troops withdrew, explaining that they lacked a mandate to intervene. Some of the skulls of the murder victims are displayed in the memorial located about 60 kilometers from Kibuye. On the outdoor grounds, a small monument depicting spears jutting out of the ground is a reminder of the brutal methods used during the genocide.

Nyamata Genocide Memorial

The scarf on this altar is still covered in blood. Some 10,000 people sought refuge in the former Catholic church in April 1994. But Hutu militias broke holes into the brick walls and through grenades inside.

They later stormed the church to shoot or kill the people on the inside with machetes. After the massacre, many more people in the surrounding area were also murdered. Approximately 50,000 dead lie in graves around the building, which is located about 30 kilometers south of Kigali. The church is now a memorial. The holes in the walls are still visible, as are the bullet holes in the ceilings. All that remains of the victims are their clothing and personal identification. The IDs, which identified whether a person was Tutsi or Hutu, had special significance.


Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial

Pristine and clean, this large brick church extends upward towards the blue skies of Rwanda. Approximately 20,000 people sought refugee here in 1994. Many of them were fleeing to Tanzania, which is only a few kilometers away. They were murdered within a few days in mid-April.

The mayor of the district, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, played a major role here. He led the attack personally, distributing weapons and using a megaphone to call on the mob to engage in rape and murder. The International Criminal Tribunal later sentenced him to life in prison (see documents).

Nothing in the renovated church in the Rusumo community suggests that it had been filled with corpses in 1994. But the remains of the massacres can be seen in the cloister behind it: Cloth items and shoes from the victims, human bones piled up by size, skulls on table-like shelves in which the cracks and holes caused by machetes are still visible. Murder instruments are also displayed in the memorial, including sharp sticks that are believed to have been thrust from below through the bodies of pregnant women. A commemorative garden lies near the mass graves and includes a wall with names, but until now only a few of the victims have been identified.


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