April 15, 1994: When thousands of Tutsi were killed in churches

By Dr Bizimana Jean Damascene,ES/CNLG.

On April 15, 1994, the criminal government continued to implement its genocidal plan to exterminate Tutsi throughout the country.

The following places accommodate churches where thousands of Tutsi were killed.

Tutsi massacred in Nyange Catholic Church

The history of Nyange at the Catholic Church as well as its neighboring area during Genocide is unique. It is in the former Kivumu Commune, Birambo sub-prefecture which was composed of three communes namely: Bwakira, Kivumu and Mwendo in Kibuye Prefecture. The history shows the long and tiring journey of thousands of Tutsis who fled to Nyange catholic church believing they would find safe heaven at that holy place. Few days later, the renowned priest SEROMBA Athanase ordered to demolish the church using a caterpillar and all Tutsis inside were killed.

After the death of Rwanda’s President Habyarimana Juvenal on April 6, 1994, mass killing of Tutsi started immediately in Kivumu commune and took the lives of many civilians including Grégoire Ndakubana, Martin Karekezi and Thomas Mwendezi.

Due to those attacks, Tutsi from various sectors of Kivumu Commune fled from their homes to administrative buildings and churches including Nyange church hoping to be safe. The Mayor of Kivumu Commune along with communal police gathered all Tutsi refugees from various sectors of Kivumu and took them to Nyange Parish. Arriving there, the Priest Athanase Seromba   requested information on Tutsi who had not yet arrived at the Parish and wrote their names on a list which he handed to the Mayor Grégoire Ndahimana to search and bring them at the Parish to kill them easily in the church.

The attacks were led by various people especially a businessman called Gaspard Kanyarukiga, a teacher called Télesphore Ndungutse and Anastase Nkinamubanzi who worked for an Association called Astaldi that was constructing the road connecting Rubengera and Gisenyi and he is the one who brought the caterpillar that demolished Nyange church. Seromba conspired with Grégoire Ndahimana who was the Mayor of Kivumu Commune, Fulgence Kayishema who was the investigation officer in the same commune, Télesphore Ndungutse, Gaspard Kanyarukiga and many more to kill the Tutsis.

Massacre of Tutsis at Ruhanga Anglican Church (EER Ruhanga)

In 1994, many Tutsis lived on the hill of Ruhanga and other surrounding hills in the former Gikoro commune.  When the Genocide started, some Tutsis took their spears and arrow bows with and fled to Ruhanga hill. When the Interahamwe started to fight them, they took children, women and older people inside the church and started to fight back using their traditional weapons and stones.

After Interahamwe realized that the Tutsis resisted the killing, they called upon the support from Rwamagana gendarmery and the helicopter came to shoot the Tutsis and the survivors were chopped with machetes by Interahamwe. After that, killers went to the church and used petrol to burn alive those who were in the church where very few survived. Among the victims, there were also a Hutu pastor and his family members who opposed the killing of Tutsi and decided to stay with them and died there. The church was later on transformed into a genocide memorial.

Massacre of Tutsi in Ntarama Catholic church

When Genocide started, Tutsis from Ntarama tried to resist and fought Interahamwe militia back. When the fight became harder for Tutsis as Interahamwe were reinforced by soldiers, they started to enter in the church of Ntarama. The fact that the massacre was continuously increasing across Bugesera, other Tutsis from Kanzeze, Kayumba and Nyamata were all gathering in Ntarama to seek refuge. On April 15,1994, buses full of Interahamwe and soldiers from elsewhere as well as those from Ntarama massacred about 3000 Tutsi refugees who were in the church. They used guns, grenades as well as traditional weapons.

On 15 April 1994, at Cyugaro school, many Tutsis were killed including those who lived near the school and those who had just survived from the massacre of Ntarama church.  Those who survived at Cyugaro school took refuge in the papyrus swamps called CND during Genocide and they would return back at night to look for food which they cooked at the schools and go back to the swamps before the dawn.

Tutsi massacred at Cyahinda Parish, Nyaruguru

Between 14 and 15 April 1994, Interahamwe killed about 32,000 Tutsis who have taken refuge at Cyahinda church. Those killed in Cyahinda Church were from Nyakizu and its neighboring communes like Mubuga, Kivu and Nshili. Those who commanded the killings are Ntaganda Ladislas who was the Mayor of Nyakizu commune, Busoro Sous-prefect Assiel Simbarikure, Festus Nyamukaza who worked closely with Ntaganzwa, Pastor Francois Bazaramba of Union of Baptist Churches in Rwanda (UEBR Nyantanga), Celestin Batakanwa, Geofrey Dusabe, Celestin   Rucyahana (a former military) and many others.

All Tutsis were gathered at Cyahinda parish since Mayor Ntaganzwa and other Interahamwe had closed all pathways to Burundi and sensitized Tutsis to go to Cyahinda where they were told to be protected. After gathering them all, Ntaganzwa requested support of gendarmes from Butare with the help of Major Cyriaque Habyarabatuma and they exterminated all Tutsis who were at Cyahinda Parish.

Another aspect of Genocide in Cyahinda was the survival of Priest Charles Nshogoza who tried to escape by hiding at the parish’s staff called Alexis until the Mayor Ntaganzwa searched for him in collaboration with Sergeant Corneille Ndindayino until they found him and brought him at the parish, tortured him and finally killed him. It was in May 1994.

Massacres of Tutsi at the Catholic parish of NYARUBUYE

From April 10, 1994, the Catholic parish of Nyarubuye welcomed very many Tutsi who came from the communes of Rukira, Rusumo, Mugesera and Birenga; the latter being survivors fleeing the massacres which had taken place on April 12 and 13 in the city of Kibungo and at the Catholic parish of Zaza. These killings took place following the meeting held on April 12, 1994 at the Huye military camp. It was chaired by Colonels Pierre Celestin Rwagafirita and Anselme Nkuliyekubona during the course in the presence of the mayors of Birenga Melchiade Tahimana, Rusumo Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, Kigarama Mugiraneza Emmanuel, Mugesera Gakware Léopold, Sake Sylvain Mutabaruka and many others in which was decided to accentuate the genocide.

On April 14, 1994, another meeting took place at the Huye military camp, bringing together the same people certainly to assess the massacres and accentuate the genocide where it was not yet completely consumed as Nyarubuye. On the morning of April 14, there were several attempts to attack militiamen in Nyarubuye who were repulsed by the Tutsi. The militiamen went to ask for reinforcement at the gendarmerie station located in Nasho. A gathering of gendarmes, soldiers and militiamen has taken place since April 14 at the Nyarutunga, a commercial center under the supervision of bourgmestre Sylvestre Gacumbitsi and other Hutu power leaders and prepared for the assault on Nyarubuye.

In the early afternoon of April 15, 1994, the attack on Nyarubuye began with the participation of the bourgmestre Gacumbitsi himself, who killed on the spot with the machete an old well-respected Tutsi in Nyarubuye, named Murefu. The Hutu leaders of Nyarubuye participated in this attack, including the named Evariste Rubanguka judge of the Rusumo cantonal court, Karamage Isaïe sector advisor Nyarubuye, Rugayumukama Daniel militia leader, Edmond Bugingo teacher, Ntezimana Léonidas, Hakizamungu Antoine, Gisagara François, Ryamugwiza Déogratias Jean alias Misumari, and many others.

Research carried out by Professors Paul Rutayisire and Privat Rutazibwa in 2007 identified 742 genocidaires who were actively involved in the genocide in Nyarubuye.

Massacre of Tutsi at the Catholic parish of Muganza, Nyaruguru

The Tutsi of the former Kivu commune where the parish of Muganza was located began to take refuge there from April 7 fleeing the attacks which threatened them. Several Tutsi houses were already burned down under the supervision of the mayor Juvenal Muhitira and Father Joseph Sagahutu. Sub-prefect Biniga also came to the scene at the very beginning of the genocide and held a night meeting with the mayor Muhitira and Father Sagahutu during which the hunt for Tutsis was decided.

As of April 11, 1994, 8,600 Tutsi refugees were registered in the parish in the morning and their number increased daily until reaching 11,000 in the evening of the same day. It was on this day that the parish of Muganza suffered the first attack and the Tutsi defended themselves. The next day April 12, another major attack took place led by the bourgmestre Muhitira and the sub-prefect Biniga Damien and it failed so that at the same time another attack was carried out at the neighboring parish of Kibeho and that the refugees Tutsis managed to defend themselves. Biniga and Muhitira then decided to focus on Kibeho first and come to settle the Muganza massacre once the Kibeho massacre is over.

On April 15, the day after the extermination of Kibeho, a gang of killers supported by soldiers stormed the Muganza parish and decimated the Tutsi refugees there.

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Elias Hakizimana

Elias Hakizimana, CEO&Founder of The Inspirer Ltd,(www.rwandainspirer.com) is a professional Rwandan Journalist with Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication, received from University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in 2014. He served various media houses in Rwanda including Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) in 2013 and became passionate with English Online and Print Media Publications where he exercised his talent as a Freelance News Reporter for The New Times, The Independent, The Rwanda Focus, Panorama and more before he became a Self-Entrepreneur as the CEO and Founder of The Inspirer Limited in early 2017.

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