SURVIVING TUTSIS TELL THE STORY OF MASSACRES BY HUTU MILITIAS
Government-instigated massacres have all the hallmarks of genocide, says a UN human rights report
CYANGUGU, RWANDA — MANUEL is one of the Tutsi who survived the genocide in Rwanda.
He sits on the grass in a hillside camp of plastic-covered huts of twigs and grass. The French military guards this camp at Nyarushishi, eight miles from Cyangugu in southwestern Rwanda, because its Tutsi occupants are still in danger.
Whenever people wander too far from the camp to gather firewood, they risk being killed by Hutus still in the area. Not long ago, French soldiers stopped some Hutus heading to the camp with axes.
The harrowing tales of Manuel and other Tutsi survivors of massacres makes the impact of what has happened in Rwanda over the past four months more apparent.
Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda have lived together for several centuries. But in recent years Rwandan politicians in the majority-Hutu government have fanned ethnic differences to forestall sharing power with the minority Tutsis.
In 1990, Tutsi rebels attacked the government from neighboring Uganda to win a greater share of power in the government and a right for Tutsi refugees who had fled earlier massacres to come home again.
When Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in a plane crash April 6 this year, the Hutu militants, in what the United Nations calls a ``pre-planned'' series of attacks, began annihilating Tutsis and moderate Hutus opposed to the government.
Ironically, today it is the 2 million mostly Hutu refugees who have drawn world attention to the Rwandan crisis; many of them, though not involved in the killings, fled the country for fear of retribution by the Tutsis.
Indeed, on July 22, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali pointed to ``a new kind of genocide'' of Hutu refugees being killed ``by hunger, thirst, by disease....''
Massive relief will be needed for a long time to keep as many of the refugees as possible alive. Large numbers have already died of cholera and other causes.
The plight of the Rwandan Hutu refugees has shifted world attention away from the issue of genocide against the Tutsi. But genocide will also be an issue for a long time, a permanent historical fact in Rwanda, as a new Tutsi government seeks to rebuild the nation and offer assurances to Hutus that it is safe to come home.
At least 500,000 and as many as 1 million Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, but also Hutu moderates, were killed by Hutus, according to a June 28 report by the UN's Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Rene Degni-Segui. The ``systematic massacres'' soon went beyond political opposition figures, he says. ``Whole families are exterminated - grandparents, parents, and children. No one escapes, not even newborn babies.'' He concludes it is ``genocide,'' a ``holocaust.''
One frustrated relief worker says she is glad to see the world responding to the needs of the Hutu refugees. But she asks: Where was the world when Tutsis were being slaughtered?
The US military, which, after a week's hesitation, plunged into the international rescue operation for Hutu refugees in Goma, Zaire, stayed home during the killings in Rwanda. Only the French came, though not for two months - by which time most of the killing was over. And the French presence has been a controversial one, given the previous French support for the Rwandan Hutu military.
Call for prosecution
Some UN officials are calling for war-crimes trials. So is Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights. One UN official, who asked not to be named, says he fears the world will shove the issue under the carpet to concentrate on humanitarian relief for the survivors.
``The world let it [genocide] happen again,'' says one international analyst, asking not to be identified. Unless action is taken quickly, ``the chances of the killers being arrested are fairly slim,'' says another analyst anonymously. But some action should be taken to show that, as in Germany, ``society is guilty,'' the second analyst adds.
When the war was still going in the Hutu's favor, the Hutu attacks, beginning in April, did not pass over Tutsis hiding in churches - normally places of sanctuary even in war - in schools, homes, on the roads, in the woods.
The killing was planned and deadly efficient, the UN report says. An estimated 55,000 Tutsis lived in the Cyangugu area before the killing began; now there may be fewer than 10,000, including 8,000 in the camp near here.
The killings in this area began soon after Rwandan President Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntyamira, both Hutus, were killed in a plane crash on April 6, apparently shot down near the airport in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. It is still not clear who shot them down.
Manuel, a young farmer whose last name is withheld for his safety, tells about the attacks he and his family survived from April until the French arrived here in late June.
When the first killings began, Manuel ran into the woods near his hillside farm with his wife and two children, hoping things would get better. They didn't.
``After two days I realized it was getting worse. I decided to leave my hill. We went to the cathedral of Cyangugu.'' The local priest received them, and they thought they might be safe. But after a few days, the mayor of Cyangugu, Joseph Bugarama, ``told us to go to the stadium'' in Cyangugu. He said if we didn't go the stadium, the interahamwe would destroy the cathedral.''
Interahamwe is Rwandan for ``those who attack together,'' Hutu militias of the governing Hutu-dominated political party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Democracy and Development.
Human Rights Watch/Africa estimates that some 5,000 Tutsis were taken to the small stadium at the edge of town on April 15. The stadium became a concentration camp in every sense of the word, with systematic killings of the ``inmates.'' Except for the smaller numbers and the lack of gas, the details recall the plight of millions of Jews in World War II.
A May Human Rights Watch report says the Tutsi prisoners were given little food and provided with only one water tap and no sanitation facilities.
``The mayor came with a list,'' Manuel continues. ``The first time he took more than 30'' from the stadium, Manuel continues. ``They were killed with machetes. One survived.'' He and others also allege that the mayor and a Cyangugu businessman named Edward Bandestsa were the ones who organized the killings.
``The second time, they took more than 40. The third time, they chose people by just pulling them out - everyone they saw in a good shirt. They took more than 50.'' Those with signs of affluence were suspected of being intellectual leaders among the Tutsis and were targeted early on.
Manuel tried to escape with his wife and two children. ``We forced our way out. But the soldiers blocked us. We were forced to return. There were interahamwe along the route with machetes and grenades.''
Then the killing picked up. The Human Rights Watch report states: ``On April 29, the military and militia killed more than 300 of 5,000 hostages who had been held since April 15 at a stadium in Cyangugu.'' The ``hostages'' were moved by bus to the camp near here, but many on the buses were pulled off and killed along the way.
The night before the French arrived, armed Hutu militias circled the camp ``with the intention of killing us,'' Manuel says. ``They had guns, grenades, and machetes. Col. Innocent Bawgamenshi sent gendarmes to protect us.''
Survivors in this camp worry about what will happen to them when the French leave. ``They can kill us,'' Manuel says of the Hutu militias still in the area.
The French have publicly repeated their desire to get out soon, but privately insist they will not abandon sites such as this one, where people could be killed, until there are suitable replacements. But the UN has been slow to organize a troop increase in Rwanda. At one point - after the killings had started - the UN Security Council reduced the UN troop strength to less than 300.
Another survivor in the camp near here, Antoine, took refuge along with more than 4,000 others in a church in Shangi, a village a few miles from here.
The interahamwe and soldiers came to the church on April 29 armed with grenades, guns, machetes, and spears, Antoine says. They were led by Mayor Bugarama, he alleges.
``First they threw in grenades. Then they began firing through openings in the parish church. They broke down the door.'' Those who managed to dash out were met by others armed with machetes and clubs with nails sticking out the end, a much-used weapon against the Tutsis in the villages of Rwanda.
He says only about 400 of what he estimates to be 5,000 people in the church survived. Human Rights Watch estimates 4,000 people were killed in the Shangi parish.
The Washington Post's Jonathan Randal, who visited the church, noted ``a pattern of bloody hand prints visible from floor to ceiling - a virtual diagram of how desperate Tutsis stood on each other's shoulders in a vain effort to reach the ceiling crawl spaces and roof to hide from their Hutu killers.''
Again, the scene recalls the ghastly final struggles of Jews in gas chambers clambering in vain to escape.
And Antoine concludes, ``What's terrible is they buried them in a common grave.''
Mr. Randal noted ``suspect depressions in the ground'' which might be graves.
The attack on the Shangi parish was only one of many like it. Churches ``once served as a refuge for the Tutsi, but have now become the scene of their holocaust,'' Mr. Degni-Segui wrote.
Human Rights Watch lists approximate numbers of Tutsis killed by Hutus in some churches and other places normally respected as places of sanctuary:
* 2,800 were slaughtered in four hours in a church in Kibungo by Hutu militias using grenades, machine guns, machetes, and R4 rockets. Only about 40 survived.
* 6,000 were attacked in a church in Cyahinda; only about 200 lived.
* 4,000 perished in a church in Kibeho.
* 2,000 were slain in a parish in Mibirizi.
* 500 died in a parish in Rukara.
* 21 orphans in an orphanage in Butare were killed ``because they were Tutsi,'' along with 13 Rwandan Red Cross volunteers who tried to protect them.
Degni-Segui estimates the number of people killed in Cyangugu alone at 25,000 by the time he submitted his report June 28.
Across the country, many Tutsis were tortured and had their limbs cut off, forcing some to beg for a bullet instead of a slow death, he says.
Some Tutsis were hunted down like animals. In the Bisesero mountains, near Kibuye, the French are protecting several hundred Tutsi survivors of one such hunt. For up to two months, Hutu militias and the Army went into the forest to search for hiding Tutsis. The Tutsis lived in the damp cold woods without fire for fear of being detected by smoke. They had little to eat.
Journalists detected some who had come close to the road seeking help from the French troops after the French arrived in late June. The journalists alerted the French.
French Navy Commander Marin Gillier recalls what his forces discovered when they arrived in the woods. ``We found in one valley several hundred bodies, from two months to two days old. Some had been killed with bullets, others with machetes.''
``There were supposed to be 4,000 to 5,000 Tutsis [who had taken refuge]; we found 800 [alive]. Everywhere you walked there were bones.''
According to Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, genocide involves ``...acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.''
UN investigator Degni-Segui says the Rwanda case meets these conditions. UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali and US Secretary of State Warren Christopher have also called the Hutu killings of Rwandan Tutsi ``genocide.''
Degni-Segui does not excuse killings by the Tutsi rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). He blames them for ``summary executions'' of prisoners suspected of taking part in the massacres. And he notes that on June 9, the RPF killed some clergy, including two bishops and the archbishop of Kigali.
Authorities of the now-deposed Rwandan Hutu government alleged to Degni-Segui that the RPF was guilty of carrying out ``systematic massacres.'' But he writes that ``There is no eyewitness evidence to confirm this information.''
Hutus whom this correspondent has interviewed in the large refugee camps in Tanzania and Zaire contend the RPF has killed members of their families and threatened entire villages. But the words they usually employ to describe such events was ``we heard,'' not ``we saw.'' Translations - and translators - are not always reliable, however.
One exasperated Hutu in the refugee camp near Ngara, Tanzania, alleged that the press ignores reports of RPF killings. And a UN relief worker in Goma, Zaire, was frustrated by what he said was a reluctance by many in the press to state clearly that three mortars fired into the town the night of July 17 may well have come from the RPF, just across the border.
Degni-Segui says that in RPF-controlled areas, reports of massacres ``are rather rare, indeed virtually nonexistent, perhaps because little is known about them.''
On the contrary, he says there is ample proof that the Rwandan Hutu government, Hutu Army, and Hutu militias had long planned to systematically wipe out Tutsis. He says the attacks were ``well orchestrated'' by government officials.
Human Rights Watch calls the downing of the Rwandan president's plane not the cause but ``the pretext for Hutu extremists from the late president's entourage to launch a campaign of genocide against the Tutsis....''
The militias, according to human rights groups, had been receiving intense military training from late 1993 onward. Arms had been distributed to the militias by the government, and a steady diet of anti-Tutsi propaganda had been pouring out of a radio station in Rwanda for months, according to the UN report.
According to Human Rights Watch, among the owners of the radio station, known as Radio des Mille Collines (Radio of 1,000 Hills) were two in-laws of President Habyarimana, and Jean-Bosco Barayagwize, head of the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic, a Hutu extremist group. When the killings began after the April 6 death of Habyarimana, the radio called on Hutu militants to kill more Tutsis with announcements like this: ``The grave is still only half full, who will help us to fill it.''
Cyprien Habimana, who is the former Habyarimana government's ambassador to Kenya, told the Monitor that the militia training was prompted by RPF giving military training to more Tutsis after the two sides had agreed in Arusha, Tanzania, in 1993, on terms for a coalition government. (A 1993 peace accord was scuttled when the government delayed its implementation.) ``People felt the need for self-protection,'' he says.
And Hutu militants in Rwanda may have looked at their neighbor, Burundi, where the Tutsis control the military and have been accused of massacres against the Hutus. In Burundi, the Hutu militants have also formed militias, which are accused of attacking Tutsis.
But according to relief workers interviewed and human rights reports, many Hutus in Rwanda saved, or tried to save, the lives of Tutsis at risk to their own lives.
In Gikongoro, in the French-protected southwestern corner of Rwanda, relief worker Stephen Jackson says a number of Hutu moderates managed to bluff their way through Hutu militia-manned roadblocks with Tutsis in their vehicles. Some Hutus have hidden Tutsis in their homes. And many Hutu church leaders have tried to protect fleeing Tutsis in their churches, though often to no avail.Most Hutus interviewed are reluctant to admit that Hutus have killed Tutsis. But one who did agree to discuss the issue is Jean Damisen Uzabakiliho in Gikongoro, in the French-protected zone. A kind of ``mass psychology'' took hold of many Hutus, he said. ``No one could control it [the massacres], and we deplore it.''
A second Hutu in Gikongoro, Jean-Marie (who asked that his last name be withheld) said of the killings: ``I can't understand it.'' Now, he said, standing out of ear shot of anyone else, ``we need goodwill and moderation on the two sides [Hutu and Tutsi].''
In Goma, where more than 1 million mostly Hutu refugees now struggle to survive in overcrowded, undersupplied camps that have been struck by cholera, Gilbert, a Hutu primary school teacher, defended Hutu killings.
``Public opinion should ask who pushed the people to massacre the Tutsis,'' he said. It was the RPF attacks after the president was killed, he said.
Hutus took first shot
Contrary to Gilbert's assessment, however, the killings by Hutus begin before the RPF started advancing toward the capital following Habyarimana's death. They began almost immediately after the plane crashed, according to human rights reports, before the RPF got moving.
``There was nobody to stop them, no authority,'' says Ambassador Habimana. ``The president was dead; so were the minister of defense and the chief of military operations,'' killed in the same plane crash.
A provisional government was formed within a few hours, which Degni-Segui interprets as a sign that plotting had been under way for some time to eliminate the political opposition: Tutsis and Hutu moderates.
Another sign of pre-planning was the ``existence of lists giving the names of persons to be executed,'' he writes. ``It seems to have been on the basis of these lists that various opposition leaders were murdered.''
In the Gikongo neighborhood of Kigali, on April 11 - just five days after President Habyarimana's plane was shot down, ``the street was covered with corpses for the length of a kilometer.''
Today in Kigali, buildings damaged in the war are being cleaned up. But the reconstruction task ahead involves much more than buildings; it involves the reconciliation of a nation, a task which some analysts say will take years.
Rwanda's Tutsi rebels have become the government. US officials now fear that the former government and its Army and militias, mostly living in refugee camps in Tanzania, Zaire, and Burundi, may become the new rebels.
The hatred on both sides from the recent slaughters runs deep. The new Tutsi-dominated government and the international community must find ways to assure the Hutus that it is safe to come home again. Hutu primary school teacher Gilbert says Rwandans must rediscover a sense of ``morality'' so people can learn to live together again.