A Tutsi family is caught off guard on a cold, rainy night
Vestina Mubamugeo was the sole survivor in her family of nine.
| Kigali, Rwanda
For Vestina Mubamugeo, an ethnic Tutsi, the 1994 Rwandan genocide started on a cold rainy night in the town of Kibuye, 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of the capital. When she heard the shouts of the killers coming toward her house, she and her family had to flee their home, leaving her sick sister, Enid, behind.
Like many in Rwanda, she was caught completely off guard by the violence. She had high hopes from the 1993 cease-fire between the Rwandan government and a rebel militia led by ethnic Tutsis, the ethnic community to which she and her family belongs.
But once the spark was lit – with the still unsolved shooting down of the plane of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6 – Rwanda's ethnic Hutu majority went on a killing spree that is unprecedented in modern times. Within 100 days, 800,000 Rwandans would be killed.
"When the killings started, we could not carry Enid [her sister]," recalls Ms. Mubamugeo. "She was too sick to walk," she says. "When Interhamwe militias came down to our house, we fled. So we left her behind. They must have killed her because we have never met again."
Previous persecutions against Tutsis had generally passed in a matter of days, so many Tutsis thought it safest to stay at home and wait for the violent passions to pass. But this time was different. The days of killings turned to weeks. All the men in Mubamugeo's family were killed. Then, Mubamugeo herself was raped and infected with HIV.
In his cell at Kimironko Prison, where he has been for 13 years, Alphonse Dwabuhihi admits to having participated in the genocide. He says he is ready to ask for forgiveness from the survivors, and to reform.
"We knew we were doing something bad," Mr. Dwabuhihi says. "But we had no option because the leaders were forcing us to kill our neighbors."
That explanation doesn't sit well with many victims – even 15 years later.
Mubamugeo says that she is the only person in her family of nine to have survived. She says she's not ready to forgive their killers.