Surviving the Genocide: An Interview with Jean-Christophe Nizeyimana.
Surviving the Genocide: An Interview with Jean-Christophe Nizeyimana.
DB: Where were you in 1993?
JCN: In 1993, I was in
DB: Where in
JCN: Gisenyi, because I was teaching at the Gisenyi High Institute of Management and Computing, called the Institut Saint Fidele in French. I was working as the chief academic officer.
DB: Can you describe the February offensive of 1993 by the RPF?
JCN: Oh, yes, I will never forget that. I was in Gisenyi at that time. I heard that the RPF were attacking Ruhengeri. That's my town, my hometown. People said many people were gathered into houses. Then RPF rebels used grenades and threw them inside the houses. You had women and kids in those houses that were blown up into pieces. Nevertheless, I was lucky because, at that time, I had to attend a marriage in Ruhengeri. A friend of mine, ok? Laurent Uwimana.
JCN: I was in Ruhengeri the day before the attack, on February 7th, that is why, I cannot forget it.
DB: I see.
JCN: The family I was celebrating with, all of them got killed. Laurent's girlfriend, parents, and relatives were all killed.
DB: You lost so many friends there.....
JCN: If you want, I can tell you names, ok? I don't want to hide anything, it´s about the truth; it's about Paul Kagame´s cruelties. Many of my friends and classmates were killed over there. I knew one friend, Jotham Dusabimana, who graduated at
DB: So the RPF put people in different camps around the country and then they hid spys with the refugees?
JCN: Yes, the displaced people.
DB: I see.
JCN: There were thousands who were displaced and killed and there is no report on what happened in the Ruhengeri and Byumba prefectures. Workers sent to investigate were killed by the RPF. Unfortunately, there is also no report about that incident. Thousands were killed there. The RPF separated men from women and put them in separate houses before burning them all down using grenades and high artillery. Thousands fled to Nyacyonga Camp. Shortly after the displaced Rwandans gathered there, Paul Kagame himself arrived at the camp and took a machine gun and shot the kids and women in the neighboring market. Other RPF soldiers killed hundreds of displaced people from Byumba and Kibungo prefectures. People were crucified and pregnant women had their stomach cut open. The fetuses were given to their supposed fathers before they were killed by akandoya.1 Many were killed with an agafuni.2
DB: Are you saying Paul Kagame did this personally? He killed those people?
JCN: Yes. Personally...and when I see him getting a visa, going to the U.S.... it's shameful! When I see Americans.....I understand they don't get the right information from institutions and universities, but, you know... it's shameful. I cannot believe that such a criminal would be granted a Doctorate of Law degree by a
DB: What was Ruhengeri like after the attack?
JCN: After the attack...well, there was only wreckage. People said the town was destroyed one hundred percent. The prison was destroyed and, ah, the hospitals were also destroyed. The hospital was run by a group of French doctors and it was a modern hospital as far as I remember, with modern equipment, experienced workers, you know, and after that everything was destroyed. Many people fled from the hospital to the university, were many students were killed. Others fled to
DB: He announced this on the radio personally?
JCN: Yes, he did. I remember it well. Many others can confirm what I say because they also heard the broadcast. He wanted to kill them all.
DB: Now, you were still in Gisenyi at the time, correct?
DB: You left Ruhengeri the day before the RPF came?
JCN: You mean Ruhengeri? I left the evening they attacked! 4:00 P.M...ok. I went back to Gisenyi because I had to work at the university the next day. That evening at 9:00, the same night I left to go home, the
DB: Can you describe what happened to you after the attack on Ruhengeri?
JCN: After the attack, I was really shaken up and I couldn't sleep. I couldn't go there and my people, my friend who I mentioned, Jotham and his girlfriend were reported killed. Laurent's girlfriend told me that her parents were killed that same night. I could not believe I was there. I knew that Jotham would never be back. Those images still cause me to hallucinate sometimes.
DB: He was from Gisenyi also?
JCN: No. He was from Ruhengeri, from Jenda, from the countryside just like me. The RPF also killed Philippe Gakwerere, the Inspector of Mining along with his family during these attacks. They killed a classroom full of students in
There was another guy, Barengayabo, President of the
DB: Why did Mr. Sendashonga leave the RPF? I mean, he had been with them for quite some time....
JCN: First of all, Seth Sendashonga was a Hutu who was believed to be one of the main RPF figures before and after the RPF seized power. I asked him the same question.
DB: Right. He was a Hutu.
JCN: Yes, and it was very difficult for me to trust him. When he first called me, I told him, "I heard about what you said all the time when I was in the refugee camps near Goma, so I don't want to get involved with you. I cannot trust you." He told me, "Jean-Christophe, I understand your position, but you cannot say that what I said and what I have done was really wrong. I really believed we (RPF) were bringing democracy to
DB: Did you believe him at the time?
JCN: (Pauses) Yes. According to the job he did for RPF and after I realized his determination to tell the whole truth, yes, I did believe him.
DB: Do you think they promised him the presidency to get him to work for them?
JCN: Yes. They promised him, but once his job was finished, he became disposable to Kagame. Paul Kagame did not want him to be president. Paul Kagame said, "I will use those Hutu to reach my goal." After that, Paul Kagame publicly announced that everybody is nothing, but he meant Hutu are nothing. Once his Hutu allies are useless to him, they are thrown into prison or killed. He knew too much information. Seth was killed on May 14th around 4:00 pm at the
DB: One of the more memorable things to me was when the ICTR witnesses like Mr. Sendashonga starting getting killed outside of
JCN: Oh yea, I remember, yes, a tragic story.
DB: He was executed differently in that his hands were cut off. What was the significance of that? Was it a message?
JCN: Ok, yes. I don't know if you have details on Kagame's strategy... I told you that the genocide was negotiated. Since the genocide was negotiated, it had to be labeled. You must have a label, a definition. You have to maintain it, you have to prepare, and you have to do whatever you can to reinforce that label, that definition among the targeted people. Ok. In that context, the RPF and Paul Kagame asked Rwandans to testify against their own relatives and against the former government so that every single testimony refers to the genocide as the definition the RPF wanted the world to see; that only Hutu extremists killed Tutsis.
Paul Kagame's strategy has always been to recreate what happened to fit into his scenario, to have people testify and say that these people on trial at the ICTR are guilty and thus they have to be thrown in prison for life or be killed. Most importantly, genocide must be recognized as a terrible crime and the perpetrators must only be Hutus.
The prisoners had to accept they were guilty and some of them were even released after they gave false testimonies against other, more well-known prisoners, political and government officials. If a prisoner refuses to accept their guilt, especially a well-known prisoner, the RPF sometimes paid people to give false testimony against those who refused to cooperate. Some prisoners who said nothing or refused to declare their guilt were tortured until they admitted their guilt. Also, they were threatened by ICTR investigators, "If you don't do this, your wife and your kids will be killed, and then you will be killed too." This is just what happened to Uwilingiyimana.
DB: So the removal of his hands was part of the torture he endured to force him to cooperate. Was that the message to the Rwandan community?
JCN: To the Rwandan community, it means that, if you are asked to testify against your friends, parents, whatever, you have to do it. If you don't cooperate, you will be killed. Nobody can deny that the RPF has death squads flourishing in
That guy Uwilingiyimana, he worked closely with Habyarimana. I mean, he was a former minister in Habyarimana's administration and was believed to be his close friend. People also said he was close to the so-called "Akazu"4 meaning that he knew everything and was an important figure. You should know that the term Akazu is really just another label to characterize and qualify the enemy so his testimony would back up the idea that the genocide was planned only by Hutu extremists. He was called to testify and was told to accept the RPF's version of the genocide story. He was told to confirm that Hutu planned the genocide in advance and killed Tutsis. He refused. He said he would never accept this. After they found out he was not willing to change his mind, they unfortunately decided to torture and kill him.
The people guilty of threatening Uwilingiyimana were from the U.N. and working for the ICTR at the time. They were two Canadians, Richard Renaud5 and another guy named Rejean Tremblay,6 along with a Belgian guy named AndrÃ© Delvaux.7 Later, I saw on T.V. Tremblay and another person I don't want to mention here together with Louise Arbour,8 and they were talking about how they were working with the ICTR to track down Hutu and force them to testify. It was incredible!9
DB: Now, so I get this correct, the ICTR workers investigating Mr. Uwilingiyimana were the ones on the T.V.?
JCN: Yes. This plan started with a guy named Akayesu who was being tried in Arusha.10 He was forced to testify to things in which he himself did not believe in. He also was forced to sign a document. If he did not sign it, he was told he would be killed. The investigators told him that he would be released or get a very short time of imprisonment if he signed it.
Everyone should also know about the hate speech of Paul Kagame given this April in Murambi. He said he did not kill enough Hutu in 1994. He actually admitted he is trying to think of a way to carry this out again. Then, only one or two weeks after his speech, there were killings in southern
DB: I didn't see any reports about the killings. I did not know about that.
JCN: I have heard the killings were carried out by Jean de Dieu Mucyo. No reports have been given about it in the papers. In the same context as Akayesu, there are men and women who are specially trained to give false testimony, like the well-known Kimisagara accusers. There are men and women from Kimisagara, Bugesera, and Kibuye who are brought to
To know exactly what I am talking about, ask the defense attorneys in Arusha. They will tell you all about these women's false allegations. For instance, they will say, "Oh, we were raped by this man for one, two weeks, etc." After the cross-examination session, it's obvious they are lying. Some of them will even admit it, but then they cannot to go back to
There is one man who I owe much respect because said he couldn't do his job under such conditions. That's why he resigned on September 30th, 1996. A former ICTR judge named Richard Goldstone from
From my side, when I came back to
DB: Where were you in
DB: So, you came back through Goma?
JCN: Yeah. I was living near Goma in the camp at Mugunga on
DB: So you left
JCN: Yes. I was living there at the time the massacres started. I fled to Sake where I stayed a couple of days before coming back to
DB: What happened in Mugunga? Can you describe what you saw?
JCN: Well, what I saw there...was just like, um...I have never been in the Sahara Desert before, but I think the day the RPF attacked must have been like that. It was very hot, a very hot afternoon. In the beginning, you know, there was intense artillery falling on the camp. I don't know how to describe that, I'm not military. I am not a soldier. Before the attack, it was so hot in that camp we didn't know how much worse the situation could possibly be. The roads were crowded with crying children and anxious women.
First of all, before the attacks, I saw people in Mugunga who looked like journalists, white journalists, approaching us. They came to us and said that they wanted to know how we were doing and they asked if they could help somehow. They said they were working for an NGO but did not specify what organization they were working for.
DB: How many of them were there?
JCN: I saw three.
DB: Did they have any accents? Did they sound British, American, South African...
JCN: American accent, yes, there was one American there. British accent, yes, there was also one British guy. But South African I can't say because I don't know. I'm not sure where the third guy was from. I don't believe they were journalists or NGO workers. They were wearing khaki shorts with small khaki shirts that had four pockets, two on top, two on bottom. At the same time, I couldn't pay too much attention to them because I was in panic. We knew the RPF was approaching the camp and a bloodbath was about to happen. I had to decide very quickly if I wanted to go back to
DB: What did they say that made you suspicious of them?
JCN: After they left, many people were shot and others were mutilated. When the RPF arrived at the camp, we didn't know where exactly the rifles were shooting from and I don't really know which side those ground troops attacked from. So many people got killed.11 I saw wounded people being helped into a
DB: Why did you go to Sake?
JCN: The first people who left Mugunga and went to the Rwandan border right away ran into the RPF and were killed. I couldn't pass through. I just wanted to go with the crowd because I thought I would have a better chance to survive. I had to wait until later. If they found out I was somebody who knows something, I mean that I was educated, I would be killed. I couldn't leave
DB: So most of the intellectuals decided to stay there in
JCN: Yes. Unfortunately, many of them got killed. I can't say for sure who survived the RPF mass-slaughters. I know many of my friends got killed, including a classmate of mine, Banzi Wellars. He and his wife never returned to
DB: So they went into the forest and decided to take their chances and those who survived the forest ended up at the Tingi-Tingi camp.
JCN: Not only at Tingi-Tingi, but also later at Ubundu,
When I left
Ok. We had some money we were going to share and I said to my wife Catherine, "Go home ok, I'll never see you again. I know I'm gonna die, but what I can do...maybe you will be safe, I don't know, but please try to survive." That's what I told her. I was in tears of course. I kissed her for what I thought was the last time. After that, I left and when I arrived at the border between
If you had any kind of document that showed you were educated, you could not survive. I saw many people who went to
There was one place at the border where the RPF separated some of the men from the women and they were led away. I don't know where they were taken but I never saw any of them again. There was one lady from the Red Cross working there who called me over and said that I should not cross the border, it was too dangerous.13 She took me to her place where I stayed with my wife and child in Gisenyi for the night. Those who crossed over on that day, many of them got killed. We couldn't find any of them on our way back to Nkuli Commune. That could have been me.
As a matter of fact, in 1996 and 1997, RPF military officers serving in
One time, Paul Kagame came personally to Ruhengeri and he called everybody to meeting. He blamed the local population for supporting the ex-FAR and Interahamwe. He even called on some of the attendees to stand up and explain why they were supporting the militias. He told them they would be held responsible for what would happen to them. He personally ordered the RPF soldiers there to kill everyone present at the meeting and he left after that. Hundreds of people were killed that evening. The killing occurred in Nkuli Commune, on the hills near the Gatovu secondary school.
When I came back to
General Nyamwasa was the chief commander of military operations in
We didn't even know who the Interahamwe really were. In reality, it was every single Hutu! We were all just told the Interahamwe were evil and were the enemy. We all knew that tomorrow any Hutu could be accused of being an Interahamwe, a common enemy that had to be destroyed, by anyone if they wanted us dead. We lived in constant fear.
After that, we had to get food from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) because when we returned to our houses after arriving back from
DB: Where were you at this time?
JCN: Because our homes were taken away by the RPF. We had to sleep outside and the UNHCR did nothing to help us. All they did was give us those papers. You had to use them during your travels inside the country. At the same time, that permit was proof you were a returnee from
When we came back to
1 Note: Akandoya is a Ugandan word meaning to tightly bind both arms behind the victim's back with such pressure that the ribs break.
2 Note: An agafuni is an old used hoe.
3 Note: Juvenal Uwilingiyimana, a Hutu, was the former Minister of Parks. His naked and maimed body was found in a canal in
4 Note: The word Akazu means "little house." In this context, it refers to a tight knit group of Hutu Bushiru, an area that included the Karango Commune President Habyarimana was born, and the Giciye Commune, where his wife Agathe Kanziga was from. She was reportedly well-connected and her "clan" wielded tremendous influence within the government. They were all Bakiga, which is a term generally referring to Hutu living in north-central and northwestern
5 Note: Chief of Investigations at the ICTR.
6 Note: Chief of Legal Proceeding at the ICTR.
7 Note: Mr. Delvaux was a police inspector at the time.
8 Note: Louise Arbour was the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTR at the time. During her tenure, ICTR judge Richard Goldstone (
After her tenure at the ICTR was completed, she was promoted to the Supreme Court of Canada and is currently the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. At the end of May 2007, she visited
9 Note: According to a note left by Mr. Uwilingiyimana before he died, Mr. Delvaux, Mr. Renaud, Mr. Tremblay, Stephen Rapp (an American who was serving as Chief of Prosecutions at the time), and Chief Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow visited him on 5 October 2005. He says in the letter his life was threatened by Mr. Tremblay and Mr. Delavaux if he didn't cooperate and incriminate Protais Zigiranyirazo, Mathieu Ngirumpatse, Edouard Karemara, and Michel Bagaragaza. (Letter to the Prosecutor of the ICTR. JuvÃ©nal Uwilingiyimana. 5 November 2005. http://www.internationalcrimesblog.com/Nov5_letter.pdf.)
There have been other allegations of witness intimidation and tampering. One witness stated he was threatened to testify in support of Protais Zigiranyirazo and Tharcisse Renzaho accused Rwandan officials of intimidating defense witnesses. Several of the witnesses will no longer testify in the trial because of threats. ("The ICTR Orders an Inquest on an Eventual Pressure on a Witness," Hirondelle News Agency. 4 April 2007; "Renzaho's Defense Accuses Kigali of Witness Intimidation," Hirondelle News Agency. 17 May 2007; "An ICTR Lawyer Denonces (sic!) the Threats Made to his Witnesses," Hirondelle News Agency. 12 June 2007.)
10 Note: Jean-Paul Akayesu was a teacher, school inspector, and MDR party member. He was also mayor of the Taba Commune. One woman who testified against him was killed with her family in mid-January 1997. Officially, the murders were committed by Hutu insurgents.
11 Note: The RPA attacked Mugunga from the northeast and the east in a strategic pincer attack. (Then) Colonel James Kabarebe led the RPA unit that approached Mugunga from the east and (then) Colonel Fred Ibingira led the RPA's 7th Battalion approaching from the northeast. (GÃ©nocide de Mugunga. R94.org. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW8j-o3JPrY.) RPA soldiers approaching from the east stole vehicles from the United Nations High Commissionner for Refugees (UNHCR) and forcibly loaded Rwandan medical patients at NGO clinics into the vehicles and moved them to Nkamira. The NGOs were also prohibited to distribute food to returning refugees. ("
12 Note: At that time, it wasn't safe to travel through
13 Note: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) branch in
14 Note: One individual I interviewed in