The month of March 1994 was significant for several major events connected with the planning of the genocide against the Tutsi, between the months of April and July 1994.
The targeted killings of Tutsi in Gisenyi, and Ruhengeri prefectures were intensified, as were the massacres in Bugesera. The month was also significant for the preparation of an effective coup against President Juvenal Habyarimana. The more extreme elements in the ruling clique wanted a free hand to plan the genocide more extensively, and organize the murders at a faster rate.
1) March 1991, Assassination of 277 Tutsi in the prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri:
In January 1991, an international commission of enquiry under the Federation of Human Rights Leagues was conducted in the Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. In all, there were ten experts on the committee: Jean Carbonare (France), chairman of the group; Philippe Dahinden (Switzerland); René Degni-Ségui (Côte d’Ivoire); Alison Des Forges (United States of America); Eric Gillet (Belgium); William Schabas (Canada); Halidou Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso); André Paradis (Canada); Rein Odink (Netherlands) and Paul Dodinval (Belgium).
The committee found several unmarked graves in these prectures. Examination of the bodies found that they were mostly young men, and most of them had multiple fractures to the face and skulls, caused by blunt instruments. In month of March 1991 alone, 277 bodies were found. The victims were Tutsi Bagogwe.
These massacres had taken place in different communes of Ruhengeri, and Gisenyi, including, Nkuli, Kinigi, and Mukingo in Ruhengeri, Gaseke, Giciye, Karago, Mutura, Kanama, Rwerere in Gisenyi.
The Commission concluded that the local civilian and military authorities, including Charles Nzabagerageza, the prefect of Ruhengeri and Côme Bizimungu of Gisenyi, were involved in the killings, as were the mayors of the respective communes. Prefect Nzabagerageza was particularly close to President Habyarimana. Both he and the President were cousins, and he was married to the cousin of the wife of the president, Agathe Kanziga. According to the commission, other highly placed officials had been directly involved in the Bagogwe massacres. They included Joseph Nzirorera, a government minister, Colonel Elie Sagatwa, adviser to President Habyarimana, and Protais Zigiranyirazo, son in law to the President, and an influential figure.
According to an internal report by the Rwandan Intelligence services, the killings had begun as early as 1990, following the launch of the liberation struggle by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). In Ngororero district alone, 362 people had been massacred.
March 1992, massacres of Tutsi in Bugesera:
On 3rd 1992, journalist Jean Baptiste Bamwanga, broadcast a report, claiming that a document purportedly drawn up by the RPF, detailing high level figures in the Habyarimana government targeted for assassination.
In the report, Bamwanga claimed that the piece of paper had been found on the premises of Tutsi shop keeper, Francois Gahima, one of the may alleged accomplices of the RPF with whose help the assassinations would be carried out. Coincidently, Gahima was also the local president of the opposition Liberal Party (PL).
There had been on such document. Bamwanga had acted on the orders of Ferdinand Nahimana, the then director of Rwanda Information Office (ORINFOR), the country’s broadcasting service. The supposed discovery of the RPF drawn up document was a pretext to begin wholesale murders of Tutsi.
Following the broadcast on the night of 4th to 5th March 1992, a combination of Interahamwe militias, soldiers of the Gako military camp, and soldiers from the Presidential Guard begun the systematic massacre of Tutsi in the area. By the end of the murderous rampage, 300 Tutsi had been massacred, their properties destroyed or despoiled.
The then government’s own report of 5th May 1992, details what was perpetrated. The report informs us that in Kanzenze commune where most Tutsi lived the destruction of people and property left:
- people massacred: 62
- dwelling houses burnt: 309
- kitchens burned: 573
- Livestock disappeared: 165 cows, 268 goats and 2 pigs.
In the Ngenda commune:
o people massacred: 36
o residential houses burnt: 74
o kitchens burned: 119
o Livestock disappeared: 112 cows, 111 goats and 16 pigs.
In Gishora Commune:
people massacred: 84
dwelling houses burnt: 216
kitchens burned: 288
Livestock disappeared: 188 cows, 325 goats and 28 pigs.
According to this report details that Bugesera had 26, 837 Tutsi, the majority of them, 22, 483 in Kanzenze Commune, out of a total population of 53, 279. The report found that 16, 239 Tutsi had fled their homes to seek refuge in different administrative centres and Church buildings, in Nyamata, Maranyundo, Ruhaha, Musenyi, Karama, Gitagata, Mayange, Rango, Ntarama, Murago, Kigusa, Kayenzi.
Five independent human rights organisations, ADL Lichredor, ARDHO, Kanyarwanda and AVP investigated the massacres, and published two reports, one on 10th March 1992, and a further report on the 30th March 1993. The 10th March report confirmed that 300 Tutsi had been murdered. Some had been thrown in local rivers to drown, some burned alive in their homes. The report put the number of displaced at 15,000 souls.
It notes that the displaced, especially those who had sought refuge in schools in Nyamata, Muranyundo, Ruhuha, and Rilima, were in desperate condition.
The report heavily criticizes the authorities responsible for the massacres, including Fidèle Rwambuka, the mayor of the Commune of Kanzenze, Faustin Sekagina, the sub-prefect of Kanazi, Déogratias Ndimubanzi, the first deputy prosecutor in Kanazi, and Dominique Muhawenimana the head of the intelligence service in Kanazi sub-prefecture.
Following the 30th March 1993 investigations, the Human Rights organizations found that the Tutsi were still kept out of their properties, and remained in extreme danger from the CDR, which continued to use the pretext that the Tutsi were RPF collaborators. Attacks included rapes, some of them by soldiers from Gako military camp against underage girls.
Some of the victims identified included Nyabyenda and Anastase who had worked for a senior official in the Ministry of Finance (MINECOFIN), Mbarute. A well know local figure Butera was murdered by soldiers in Ngenda, Nyarutarama, on 6th March 1993. Several people were badly beaten and left disabled. One of these was an elderly man, Mutabazi, who on 21st February of 1993 was badly beaten by police at the Kanzenze Commune offices. Justifying these murders and violent attacks, the commandant of Gako military camp, Lieutenant-Colonel Claudien Singirankabo, said that they were cause by the RPF war. He claimed that his mother had been killed by the RPF in Ruhengeri.
The murder of Antonia Locatelli:
Antonia Locatelli, an Italian, was the director of the Integrated Rural and Artisanal Education Center (CERAI) in Nyamata. She had welcomed Tutsi refugees as they fled the killers, and called on several authorities, government and non-governmental institutions to help, including the Archdiocese of Kigali which had responsibility for CERAI. She gave details of the massacres on Radio France International (RFI).
Her humanity and courage led to her murder. After the interview with her was broadcast on RFI, sometime between the 9th and 10th March, a gendarme, Epimaque Ulimubenshi, deliberately aimed his weapon at her, shooting her dead. Ulimubenshi had no fear of the consequence of what he had done; a clear indication that the murder had been sanctioned by his superiors in the government.
Why were attacks on the Tutsi of Bugesera an apparent priority?
Bugesera had a large population of Tutsi. The particular cruelty meted out to the victims was partly in revenge for their alleged support for the RPF. The government had popularized the claim that Tutsi youth in Bugesera were joining the ranks of the RPF, going from Bugesera through Burundi. The claims were made in several newspapers, including the government newspaper, Imvaho.
March 1993, a group of Rwandan academics support the genocide ideology:
On 1st March 1993, a group of mainly academics and staff from various institutions working in Butare issued a press notification, condemning the on going peace talks between the government and the RPF at Arusha. The group had been formed earlier in 1992. It was made of University lecturers, and their students, academic researchers, and employees from various institutions based in Butare.
The group demanded that the French military be kept in Rwanda, noting French support for the Rwanda government both in Rwanda, and internationally. They claimed that RPF fighters were not Rwandans, rather that the country had been attacked by Uganda. They repudiated the RPF’s identity as Rwandans.
On 1st March 1993, the group sent a letter to President François Mitterrand of France, asking that the French military remain in Rwanda. The letter was signed by 34 University lecturers, 30 different members of the University staff, 12 researchers, and staff from the Institute for Research and Technological Sciences (IRST), 14 teachers from Groupe Scolaire Officielle de Butare, in which they sought the retention of his soldiers in Rwanda. The letter was signed by 34 University lecturers, 30 University staff, 12 researchers and agents from the Institute for Research and Technological Sciences (IRST), 14 teachers from Groupe Scolaire Butare, 25 from other public administrative departments in the town of Butare and nearly 300 students.
March 1994, supply of the tools of Genocide
- a) Hutu extremists decide on a coup against President Habyarimana to take control of planning for genocide.
In December of 93, in its special issue No 53, the extremist newspaper, Kangura, or awaken, published an article under the headline, “Habyarimana will die in March 1994”. The paper elaborated that Habyarimana would be assassinated either at an international conference, or a religious ceremony.
In February 1994, another extremist Newspaper, La Medaille Nyiramacibiri, Number 5, reported the imminence of an over-all war that no one would survive: “Who will survive the March War? (…) The masses will rise with the help of the army and the blood will flow freely”.
Investigations by the Belgian military prosecution into the murder of ten Belgian peacekeepers indicated that the United Nations Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) was aware of plans for massacres. A Belgian military assistant working at camp Kanombe as an ammunition restorer, Warrant Officer Daubie Benoît, told investigators: “the week before the attack, a maid told me to be careful; that we were going to become “white Tutsi, that there were lists of people to be defeated and that we Belgians might be on the list”. Several notes from UNAMIR intelligence services made public by a Belgian Senate report make the same observation.
Preparations for genocide intensified.
The reports from foreign embassies in Rwanda in 1994 show that the month of March saw increased incitement to genocide. In a telex sent on 1st March Belgian Ambassador to Rwanda, Johann Swinnen, informed Belgian authorities of broadcasts on the extremist Radio Televusion Libre de Mille Colline (RTLM) which were “inflammatory statements calling for hatred, even the extermination of the other part of the population”.
A document from the Belgian intelligence services dated 2nd March 1994 cited an informant from the ruling MRND who had revealed to the Belgian authorities that the MRND had drawn up a plan for the extermination of Tutsi in Kigali should the RPF open hostilities. According to the informant, “If things go wrong, the Hutu will massacre them without mercy” adding that “regional divisions no longer exist and the morale of the army has never been so high”.
On 3rd March 1994, Major Podevijn of UNAMIR informed his commander, General Romeo Dallaire, that weapons had been distributed to the militia in the Gikondo neighbourhood, one of the most important areas of support for CDR. On 10th March, UNAMIR discovered several quantities of heavy weapons destined for the Rwandan army and, reported increased recruitment of militia and military personnel. Dallaire requested authorization from the UN to seize these weapons, and asked for reinforcements for the peacekeepers. He never got a response.
March also saw the delivery of Machetes, ordered from the British company, Chillington, by one of the chief financiers of the genocide, Félicien Kabuga.
President Habyarimana announces massacre of his opponents
It was in March that the Arusha peace talks between the RPF, and the Habyarimana government, stalled. Against pressure from Rwanda’s external donors, the president refused to establish the national institutions, in accordance with the Arusha talks. Instead, he acceded to the extremist CDR’s demand for seats in the Transitional National Assembly, despite the fact that because of its opposition to the peace process, the CDR was excluded from transitional arrangements.
On 20th March 1994, President Habyarimana received the National football team at Kigali airport, making a speech that was a thinly disguised call for violence against his opponents.
Referring to the Arusha agreement, he boasted, “I never lost because when the game seemed to go wrong I Never hesitated to break the leg of the opposing player. I even broke the ball. I am like that… “.
Minister and senior military officials warn UNAMIR that genocide could be completed in two weeks.
On 5th May 1994, in a statement before the Belgian military prosecution, investigating the murders of ten Belgian peace keepers, Lieutenant-Colonel Jacques-Albert Beaudouin who had been in Rwanda as adviser to Rwandan Chief of Defence Staff G3 General Gratien Kabiligi, said he had heard Rwanda’s Defence Minister Gen Augustin Bizimana publicly state that there would be genocide, if the RPF did not halt the war.
“a month or two before the attack, I attended an evening at General Nsabimana’s house, with the Belgian ambassador, Colonel Vincent, Colonel Marshal (UNAMIR), Colonel Le Roy, President Habyarimana, BIZIMANA (MINADEF) and a few Rwandan officers. In fact, on this occasion, it appeared or rather it was reaffirmed that ARUSHA could not be accepted by Rwandans. BIZIMANA told me, after a few glasses of champagne, that he was ready to engage the Rwandan army if the RPF did not play the game.
Ten days before the attack, on the last Friday of March, Colonel Vincent [Head of the Belgian Military Cooperation in Rwanda] invited General Nsabimana and G3 Colonel Kabiligi to his house and at that meeting they still clearly asserted that Arusha was not possible, that eventually they would accept early elections and that if they wanted to impose ARUSHA, they could eliminate the RPF and the Tutsi and it would take a maximum of two weeks. They seemed safe from them”.
The Prefect of Kigali, Colonel Renzaho, prepares for the Genocide
On 30th March 1994, Colonel Tharcisse Renzaho the prefect of the City of Kigali, sent a list of people, including reservists, to be included in a so called civil defence force to Army Chief of Staff, Colonel Déogratias Nsabimana. “Self Defence force” was a euphemism for murder squads. Renzaho’s letter followed a broadcast by Ferdind Nahimana on 28th March 1994, in which he had called for the self defence of the population, in preparation for the “final solution” to the “Tutsi league” which wanted to create “a Hima Empire”. Nahimana called on all local authorities to exhort the population to this cause, a barely veiled call for mass murder.
Distribution of weapon stockpiles from Kanombe camp to military barracks around the country.
The largest Rwandan Army (FAR) weapons depot was in the Kanombe military camp. UNAMIR In March 1994, UNAMIR reported that large quantities of ammunition had been smuggled from their stores in Kanombe and distributed without their knowledge to the various military camps around the country, especially Gitarama.
In his statement before the Belgian military prosecutor, Warrant officer Benoit DAUBIE, confirmed the weapon distribution.
“I had access to all ammunition stores in Kanombe before the attack. (…) A bigger part of the store had been emptied of its contents. In number, the munitions extracted were very important. I take for example the distribution of 1000 blows of 120mm mortars on Gitarama. There remained about 20% of the ammunition in the store. It was about a month before the attack and it took a week for transportation. A FAR lieutenant told me that this was in anticipation of an RPF attack. I think that this action was made to escape the control of the UN observers. I know that the situations provided by the FAR General Staff at the UN were false because they did not take into account what had been distributed in mass. They counted only the situation in the almost empty store. Many ammunition trips were made at night according to a German colleague”.
In March 1994, the whole apparatus that organized and supervised the Genocide against the Tutsi was ready. It included the immediate entourage of President Habyarimana, his close civilian, political and military advisers, the Interahamwe militia and Impuzamugambi militias. These committed extremist militiamen were estimated at 30,000 strong. They were spread all over the 143 communes of Rwanda. They spearheaded the murder of 1,074,017 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi, all of whom were identified by the Rwanda Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC), in 2004.
Dr Jean-Damascène BIZIMANA
Executive Secretary CNLG