In the Hutus' murderous campaign against Rwanda's Tutsis, death squads targeted many moderate Hutus as `accomplices' or `sympathizers'
NAIROBI, KENYA — Faustin Hitiyise was walking along the road to Butare, in southern Rwanda, where he and his family had sought safety. Two men with machetes grabbed him. ``They said they did not know me in the region and said I was a [Tutsi rebel],'' says Faustin, a university-educated accountant. ``They put their machetes against my neck and were about to kill me.''
Faustin, ironically, is a Hutu. So are his wife, Jeannette, and their three-year-old son, Richard. But like many well-educated moderate Hutus, they nearly perished in the slaughter of Rwanda's Tutsis at the hands of their Hutu brethren.
United Nations investigator Rene Degnigui estimates that Hutus killed between 500,000 and 1 million Rwandans in a campaign of genocide against the Tutsis following the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana when his plane was apparently shot down in April.
Many Hutus were also killed, according to the UN report, for being in the political opposition, for being suspected sympathizers with the Tutsi-led rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), or simply for fleeing the fighting in Rwanda. Other Hutus risked their lives trying to save Tutsis.
Tutsis and suspected Hutu sympathizers were hunted down across the country - in homes, fields, and forests. Churches and schools, where thousands ran for protection, were attacked with grenades and machete-wielding gangs, according to eyewitnesses.
Faustin, now safe in a Nairobi hotel room with Jeannette and young Richard, continues his story:
Just as he was about to be killed, two other men emerged from a nearby sorghum field. One had a spear, the other a bayonet.
The new arrivals asked if the would-be killers had looked at Faustin's identity card. But even after Faustin produced an ID showing he was a Hutu, the two men with machetes still wanted to kill him. He must be a rebel sympathizer, they said, because he was a stranger.
Faustin replied that he was staying with a local priest, a well- known man in the area. The new arrivals knew the priest and agreed to accept Faustin's offer of about $2 to escort him home.
``It was a miracle,'' Faustin says.
The men with the machetes walked off. En route to the priest's home, Faustin and his escorts passed other Hutus armed with machetes, clubs studded with nails, spears, and axes.
When he arrived home that night, Jeannette says: ``I thought God made a miracle to save the `father of Richard,' '' as she affectionately calls her husband.
Faustin and his family are now safe in Nairobi. But the dangers they faced in their escape from Rwanda illuminate the hardships faced by innocent Hutus who were threatened by the worst killing spree Africa has ever seen, set off when Hutu prejudice and jealousy were fanned by the government. Hutu extremists, according to the UN, told farmers that the RPF would take their land and promised that Hutus could increase their land by killing their Tutsi neighbors.
Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Before the genocide, Tutsis made up an estimated 14 percent of Rwanda's population, while Hutus accounted for 85 percent and Twa 1 percent, according to government censuses.
For several hundred years, Tutsis have dominated Hutus politically, economically, and militarily. Hutus rebelled in 1959, and in 1960 won municipal elections organized by the Belgian colonial rulers. Two years later, Rwanda gained its independence from Belgium.
In December 1963, Tutsi rebels attacked the Hutu government, sparking an organized massacre of Tutsis in which some 10,000 people were killed. Many Tutsis fled the country, mostly to neighboring Burundi. Divisions over political power developed between northern and southern Hutus. Meanwhile, a generation or two of Tutsis grew up in exile, waiting for an opportunity to return home.
In 1990, the Tutsi-led RPF launched a civil war after Rwandan President Habyarimana said the country did not have enough room for the Tutsi refugees to come back. By mid-1993, the government and the RPF had signed a peace accord at Arusha, Tanzania, allowing for a return of refugees and a coalition Hutu-RPF government.
But the accord was never implemented. The RPF accused Habyarimana of stalling. Some Hutus wanted to share power; hard-liners did not. On April 6, a plane carrying both President Habyarimana and Melchior Ndadaye, president of Burundi, was shot down over Kigali, the Rwandan capital, by unknown assailants. Both leaders were returning from a regional peace conference in Tanzania. Both were killed.
At the time, Faustin was working in Kigali for Family Health International (FHI), a United-States-based nonprofit organization with contracts with the US Agency for International Development in family planning and AIDS prevention in various African countries, including Rwanda and Kenya. He and his wife had a three-year old son, and Jeannette was eight months pregnant.
Born near Kigali, Faustin attended Christ the King high school in the town of Nyanza. After earning a degree in accounting at the National University of Rwanda in 1986, he obtained an advanced degree there in business administration in 1988.
His hobbies include reading newspapers and books on philosophy. Jeannette finished secondary school in 1989 and would someday like to enter any business that allows her to travel abroad. They were married in 1991.
Harbinger of war
``I heard two explosions,'' Faustin recalls of the night the presidents' plane was shot down. Shortly after that, a private radio station that regularly broadcasted anti-Tutsi propaganda announced that the president was dead and that war had broken out.
The killings began almost immediately, apparently led by the presidential guard, but also largely carried out the interahamwe, militant Hutu death squads. Blamed by the United Nations for the bulk of the killings of both Tutsis and Hutus, the groups were determined to block a Tutsi return to power.
Lists of targeted victims had been drawn up before the downing of the plane, and the killings were carried out ``systematically,'' according to a later UN report.
Among the first victims were opposition politicians, senior civil servants, journalists, and human-rights activists, according to a Sept. 29 African Rights report. ``Most were Hutus; the mass killing of Tutsis was to start only later on.
The genocidal orders were passed down through the administrative and military hierarchies,'' the report continues. Hutus who resisted the Tutsi genocide included senior Army officers and civil servants, local officials, businessmen, soldiers, schoolteachers, doctors and other medical staff, lawyers, and even some priests, according to the report. ``Ordinary people joined the killing through various motives -- greed, fear, pressure from above, and outright coercion,'' it said.
Roadblocks go up
Roadblocks of stones, tires, almost anything, were thrown up throughout the capital and in many other places, making infiltration by strangers nearly impossible. It also made escape nearly impossible.
``Everyone was asked to keep guard -- to go the barricades,'' Faustin says. ``If you stayed at home, you risked being labeled an accomplice [of the RPF]. We put up stones to stop vehicles from passing, and asked for documents.''
Faustin witnessed the killing of a man in Kigali. ``About 20 [men] came around him and clubbed him to death.'' He is not sure of the ethnic identity of the man.
On the night of April 13, just a week after the killings began, Faustin was late reporting to the barricade near his home because his family was having a late dinner. By the time he arrived, the RPF had attacked, killing four people at the barricade.
Faustin was worried. As a newcomer to the neighborhood, and one who had not been present when others had been killed at the barricade, he might be suspected of being a rebel accomplice. But to try to leave would make him even more suspect.
Jeannette's pregnancy gave them an excuse. ``I said she had to go to a hospital,'' Faustin says.
The Hutu militia allowed them to pass the barricades -- six of them in the 200 yards or so from their home to the nearest main street.
``At every barricade there were bodies,'' Faustin recalls. At one point he saw some 50 bodies lined up along the street. Hutu militants described the dead as suspected rebel ``accomplices.''
Jeannette remembers she felt ``so desperate. I was very afraid because there were many bodies and many barriers. I put all my faith in God.''
She, Faustin, and Richard were allowed to catch a ride downtown in a government military truck.
An eerie calm prevailed. Faustin left his family in a hospital and took refuge in the FHI office.
From there he telephoned a contact in Nairobi. He asked for help getting a fax showing that he would receive financial support if he left Rwanda, so that he and his family could be evacuated by UN forces as an employee of an international organization.
He received the fax from FHI officials in Washington, but the evacuations ended before he and his family could fly out. So they got a permit from the Rwandan government to go south to Butare. Again, the reason given to justify travel was the need for a hospital, since the one in Kigali was understaffed and overcrowded, with many Tutsis seeking refuge there.
Permission in hand, the family traded a small radio for a ride with the military to Gitarama on April 17. There, friends gave them bus fare to Butare, where they arrived the next day.
In stark contrast to the killings in Kigali, Butare was still calm. ``There were no barricades, no tension; people walked around, and they weren't asked for their IDs,'' Faustin says.
The calm in Butare reveals the high degree to which political manipulation by the Hutu militants in Kigali is responsible for the killings in Rwanda.
Butare, a university town, was a bastion of Hutu moderates and intellectuals opposed to the federal government -- a government dominated by a northern Hutu clique. The local mayor was a Tutsi.
About two weeks after the killings began in Kigali, interim Rwandan President Theodore Sindikubwabo arrived from Kigali, replaced the Tutsi mayor with a militant Hutu, and gave an inflammatory speech. He urged Hutus to take action against the Tutsis ``and their accomplices,'' Faustin recalls -- words that the public knew meant Hutu moderates.
The killings began almost immediately. Faustin nearly became one of the victims.
He had settled his family in Save, a few miles from Butare. The day of the interim president's speech he had gone to Butare to seek permission to travel to neighboring Burundi. In Butare, he found lodging in a home where several Tutsis had sought refuge.
The morning after the president's speech, Faustin was told the border with Burundi was closed. ``I went back and discovered the horror: The door and windows were smashed. Two Tutsis were lying shot dead.''
He returned to Save. Practically broke, he planned to go to Kenya to get money from his employer (FHI has a regional office in Nairobi) to pay to get his family out of Rwanda. He went back to Gitarama, hoping to reach Tanzania by that route. But Gitarama had become as dangerous as Butare, so he returned to Save.
It was as he was returning that he was almost killed by the two men with machetes.
One million flee fighting
On May 12, Jeannette's baby girl, Fortunee, was born.
Then on July 1, the RPF attacked just three miles from Save. The family fled to Gikongoro, part of the so-called French ``safety zone,'' which French forces guarded from late June to mid-August.
Gikongoro became a refuge for more than 1 million fleeing Rwandans, most of them Hutus fleeing Tutsi revenge killings after the RPF won the upper hand militarily.
In early July, the family left for Cyangugu, on the Zairean border. Instead of entering Zaire, however, they took a bus to Gisenye, one of the last government-held cities. Faustin was hoping to withdraw savings from a Rwandan national bank there.
But they were caught in the tidal wave of people fleeing RPF attacks and ended up across the border in Goma, Zaire. Thousands of refugees died in Goma from disease and lack of health care in the initial days of the refugee flood.
``I cried, and Richard cried because of hunger,'' Jeannette recalls of the several days they spent in Goma.
Crossing Lake Kiva
Faustin sold another radio he had managed to keep and bought boat tickets across Lake Kivu to Bukavu, Zaire.
But thousands of other refugees were pouring across the border into Bukavu, most of them finding nowhere to stay but in the open, under trees, or in drafty public buildings.
``I asked a small child where I could stay,'' Faustin says. The child directed him to a woman, who said they could stay in her home. It was a simple home, with a dirt floor, but it had a small spare room. ``She was a Good Samaritan,'' he says.
A doctor Faustin knew from Kigali loaned him $50 so he could go to Nairobi and try to get money from FHI to pay for his family's passage to Kenya.
Faustin left three days later, on July 20, arriving after 10 hard days of travel, including nearly two days standing in the aisle of a crowded train across Tanzania. He continued by bus to Nairobi.
With money from FHI, he returned to Bukavu on Aug. 7 - in only two hours, on a Lutheran World Federation-paid flight taking relief items to refugees.
In the meantime, their baby, Fortunee, had died of illness.
Faustin then took Jeannette and Richard over the same route he had followed to Kenya, via Tanzania.
Neither Faustin nor Jeannette yet know how many members of their family survived Rwanda's genocide.
But Jeannette recently saw a photo in a back issue of Time magazine showing Rwandan refugees stampeding across the border into Zaire. ``That's my father,'' she exclaimed, pointing to a clearly recognizable man who may now be in Goma.
Contemplating a return
Faustin and his family will probably return to Kigali as soon as they and FHI think it is safe to do so. A relatively small number of Hutu refugees have already returned. But the more than 2 million Rwandan refugees - mostly Hutus - are subject to intimidation and violence from Hutu militants in the camps if they indicate they want to return home to live under the RPF government.
Amnesty International recently claimed that ``hundreds and possibly thousands of prisoners and unarmed civilians'' were killed during the war by RPF soldiers. And other Hutus have been killed since the war, both in isolated acts of revenge by the RPF, and by the remaining Hutu militia, according to UN officials.
For now, Faustin, Jeannette, and Richard are enjoying life in Nairobi.
``This is like paradise,'' he says, comparing conditions here to what he and his family endured on their escape from Rwanda.11