Testimonies from Rwanda

In the Gisozi Genocide Memorial, photos commemorate the victims of the genocide in spring 1994. The National Genocide Archive is also housed here in Rwanda’s central memorial site. It has been collecting photographs, objects, documents, data as well as audio and video interviews since 2010. More than 100 eyewitness testimonies are accessible online (in English).

Credit: Jenny Paul / CC BY-SA

“We were almost paralyzed”

Janvier Munyaneza is one of the few survivors of the massacre in the Ntarama Church. The 14-year-old shepherd hid between the dead bodies of the people who had been killed and pretended to be dead. On the website of Rwandan Stories, he describes how the Hutu militia "Interahamwe" took action against the refugees in the church.

"The interahamwe prowled about the small wood around the church for three or four days. One morning, they all came in a group together, behind soldiers and local policemen. They broke into a run and started hacking people, inside and outside. Those who were massacred died without saying a word. All you could hear was the commotion of the attacks, we were almost paralysed, in the midst of machetes and the assailants' cries. We were almost dead before the fatal blow.

My first sister asked a Hutu of acquaintance to kill her without any suffering. He said yes, and he dragged her by the arm out onto the grass, where he struck her with a single blow of his club. But a next door neighbour, nicknamed Hakizma, yelled that she was pregnant. So he ripped open her belly like a pouch in one slicing movement with his knife. This is what these eyes saw without mistake.

I crept out amongst the corpses. Unfortunately a boy managed to push me with his metal bar, I dropped onto the bodies, I didn't move anymore, I made dead man's eyes. At one moment, I felt myself being lifted and thrown, and other people fell on top of me. When I hear that the interahamwe leaders whistle the order to pull out, I was completely covered in dead people.

It was towards evening that some courageous Tutsis from the area, who had scattered into the bush, came back to the church. Papa and my big brother pulled us free from the heap, me and my very bloodied youngest sister, who died a littler later in Cyugaro. In the school, people put dressings of medicinal herbs on the wounded. In the morning, the decision was made to take refuge in the marsh. The was to happen again every day, for a month.”



Eyewitness testimonies on the website of Rwandan Stories


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 


“They killed with all their might”

Human bones, children’s shoes, combs, scarves and other objects still lay under the benches in front of the alter of the Church of Ntarama. Francine Niyitegeka, at the time a 25-year-old shopkeeper and farmer, survived the carnage. He describes how even his neighbors took part in the killing.

“The interahamwe began hunting down Tutsis on our hill on the 10th of April. The same day, we upped and left in a group, planning to stay in the church in Ntarama because they had never been known to kill families in churches.

We waited five days. An endless flow of fellow farmers kept arriving, we came to be a large crowd. When the attack began there was too much noise to take in every twist and turn of the killings. But I recognised many neighbours’ faces as they killed with all their might. Very early on, I felt a blow. I collapsed between some benches, pandemonium all around. When I woke up, I checked to see that I was not dying.

I crept out amongst the bodies and escaped into the bush. Amongst the trees, I came across a group of fugitives and we sprinted all the way to the marshes. I was to remain there a month.”


“We killed in teams”

Nyamata is the name of the genocide memorial in the south of Kigali where the human remains of some 50,000 people lay buried. The mass murder, which was mostly carried out with machetes and clubs, is hard to comprehend. This is why the French journalist Jean Hatzfeld questioned not only victims but also perpetrators and published the interviews in several books (see literature). Excerpts are presented on the website In one of them a Hutu describes how the killing became routine.

"We began the day by killing, we ended the day by looting. It was the rule to kill going out and to loot coming back.

We killed in teams, but we looted every man for himself or in small groups of friends except for drinks and cows, which we enjoyed sharing. And the plots of land, of course, they were discussed with the organisers. As district leader, I had got a huge fertile plot, which I counted on planting when it was all over.

Anyone who couldn’t loot because he had to be absent, or because he felt too tired from all he had done, could send his wife. You would see wives rummaging through houses. They ventured even into the marshes to get the belongings of the unfortunate women who had just been killed.

People would steal anything – bowls, pieces of cloth, jugs, religious images, wedding pictures – from anywhere, from the houses, from the schools, from the dead."


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