On 7 April 2007, Rwanda will begin to mark the 13th commemoration of the 1994 genocide

with a ceremony at Murambi in Gikongoro. Now a national genocide memorial site,

Murambi was a school under construction in 1994. It contains the remains of some of the

50,000 Tutsi men, women and children who died there, a testimony to the atrocities that took

place “under the cover of night” on 21 April 1994. Murambi is set to become a genocide

education and prevention centre. It is particularly appropriate that the site previously intended

as a school should be reclaimed as a place of learning and reflection. Yet this in itself is a

reminder that the losses of the genocide were also losses for villages, regions and the entire

country. Instead of a school, serving the community, Murambi became a wasteland of

unfulfilled skills, ideas, talents and energies.

As a contribution to this year’s commemoration, African Rights is publishing a book

dedicated to Murambi. “Go. If You Die, Perhaps I Will Live”: A Collective Account ofweaves together the

Genocide and Survival in Murambi, Gikongoro, April-July 1994

testimonies of 91 survivors, witnesses and perpetrators to create an intricate and nuanced

narrative. It is an unrelenting, painful and moving account that provides a stark insight into

the 1994 genocide. It stands alongside the physical preservation of the massacre to enable an

accurate interpretation of the visual record of horror that lies there and aims to support the

work of genocide prevention.

Survivors bravely recount terrifying experiences of seeing their homes going up in flames,

navigating deadly roadblocks and witnessing the murder of their parents, children, wives,

husbands, siblings and sometimes of their entire families. Overwhelmingly, the book

documents extreme suffering and loss beyond measure. No explanation of the genocide could

ever be adequate, but the contributions from militiamen provide important insights into the

pressures and inducements Hutu males in particular faced, as well as into the planning and

execution of the bloodshed. They speak about the civilian and military officials who incited,

armed and organized them, detail the extent of their crimes and reveal the identities of some

of those who died at their hands.

In recording these memories, and in publishing a partial census of the dead, African Rights

hopes to ensure that the victims of Murambi are remembered in Rwanda, internationally and

by future generations, and also to encourage recognition within affected communities. By

drawing on the words of individuals from diverse backgrounds, “Go. If You Die, Perhaps Idemonstrates the potential in Rwanda for a collective understanding of the

Will Live”

genocide that can emerge through dialogue and education.


The Road to Murambi

The death of President Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994 sparked the genocide of Tutsis

throughout Rwanda. In Gikongoro préfecture, interahamwe militiamen began to set fire to

their houses as early as the 7th. They deserted their homes en masse. From the communes of

Mudasomwa, Kinyamakara, Karama and Nyamagabe, streams of refugees set out on journeys

that would eventually end on the crest of a hill in Murambi, on the outskirts of Gikongoro

town, in the commune of Nyamagabe.

Many first took sanctuary in the spacious Catholic Bishopric located in the town of

Gikongoro which was soon overflowing with frightened refugees. “No one helped us,”

commented Annonciata Muhayimana who had trekked from Mudasomwa with young

children. Even worse, added Domina Uwariraye, was the violence and the fear.

Some refugees were abducted and killed, and some of the women were raped by soldiers and

militiamen. The local residents came by and told us that our end was in sight


Beginning Sunday 10 April, senior officials transferred all the refugees to Murambi. Most

made their way by foot. The operation was directed by the préfet (governor), Laurent

Bucyibaruta; Col. Aloys Simba, a retired officer who, in 1994, was appointed as the head of

civil defence for the préfectures of Gikongoro and Butare; the deputy head of the gendarmerie

for Gikongoro, Captain Faustin Sebuhura: and the bourgmestre (mayor) of Nyamagabe,

Félicien Semakwavu. Eugénie Mushimiyimana recalled the reasons they gave for the move.

Bucyibaruta and Semakwavu told us that they considered Murambi a more appropriate place

because it was isolated and had the necessary watchmen and water.

The strategies for the genocide in Gikongoro were debated and decided upon at a critical

meeting on 13 April in the office of the préfecture where Bucyibaruta, Simba and Sebuhura

spelt out the aims and gave directives. Désiré Ngezahayo, the bourgmestre of commune

Karama, spoke of the rationale behind the forced exodus to Murambi.

Simba reassured us that getting the Tutsis to congregate in the same place was a way of setting

an effective trap for them.

As the turmoil and panic spread, tens of thousands more headed directly for Murambi. A

series of formidable roadblocks, established across the commune to monitor and control the

movement of Tutsis, punctuated, and sometimes terminated, their journeys. The roadblock at

Kabeza, a collection of shops about one kilometre south of Murambi, initially served as a

gateway to channel as many Tutsis as possible up the hill. But later on, when Emmanuel

Nyirimbuga was on duty, David Karangwa, a court clerk, and deputy-préfet Frodouald

Havugimana, came to announce a change in strategy.

They said the large number of Tutsi refugees in the camp could put the local Hutu population

at risk. They told us to start checking the identity cards of everyone who came through and to

execute on the spot anyone whose card showed them to be Tutsi.


Some of Léocadie’s companions were indeed murdered, and women like her were taken aside

and raped.

The interahamwe killed all the men and a few women. Some other women, including my

brother’s fiancée and I, were taken to bushes not far from the site to be raped. I was raped by

five strangers.

Those who made it to Murambi were at first relieved to have come to the end of their journey,

but they soon realized the predicament into which they had been led.

“Facing Death Through Hunger and Thirst”

The refugees were crowded into Murambi for about ten days. But Francine Mutuyimana, a

child of 11, lost all sense of time. Her days in the camp “felt like years because of the torment

we endured.” They were frightened and some were severely traumatised. Others were sick or

injured and all were extremely hungry and thirsty. Surrounding the perimeter of the camp was

an iron fence. Officials told the refugees that the soldiers manning it were there to keep them

from harm. But constant physical and verbal threats made them increasingly sceptical.

Promises of security were never honoured, commented Valérie Mukamana.

The interahamwe threw stones at us from outside the school buildings.

In reality, added Julienne Umugwaneza, the soldiers watched over them “so that no-one could


Few had had the time, or the presence of mind, to carry food with them when they deserted

their homes, and the guards did not allow them to fetch provisions or purchase food from the

shops nearby. The lack of water was particularly unbearable. The presence of armed men all

around them made it virtually impossible to fetch the water that was plentiful in a stream

close to the school. The refugees drew strength from pooling their meagre resources.

Bernadette Mukamugenzi and the other refugees huddled in the same building shared a single

sack of rice.

It was finished in a few days because it was divided up among lots of people. We couldn’t eat

while seeing neighbours’ children crying with hunger.

But solidarity and generosity notwithstanding, supplies were scant and hunger, dehydration

and untreated wounds were all too common, and claimed the lives of some refugees. The few

who tried to help were thwarted and turned away.

“Get Ready to Begin the War”

As conditions inside the camp deteriorated, outside its iron fence, military and civilian

officials prepared the Hutu population for what they described as a war of self-defence. The

days between 18-20 April were devoted to twin challenges: firstly, to generating fear and

distrust of the Tutsis in the camp among Hutus living in the vicinity, particularly males, in

order to convince them of the need for a showdown, and secondly, to drawing in forces from

further afield.


On 18 April, Bucyibaruta and Sebuhura visited Mudasomwa, a commune whose interahamwe

would come to distinguish itself in the massacres, not only in Murambi but even beyond the

borders of Gikongoro. Sylvestre Maniraho recalled the appeal that would eventually win him


Bucyibaruta told us: “We have come to ask you to lend us a hand in the war that we are going

to wage against the Tutsis. I’m speaking about those who have gathered in Murambi. They are

prepared to exterminate you. The vehicles to take you are available. If you don’t have fuel, the

Petrorwanda petrol station is inexhaustible.”

Similar calls to come armed to Murambi reached militiamen across Nyamagabe and

bordering communes and many convened on the hills overlooking Murambi on the 19th. The

mission was aborted because there were not enough men to mount a successful offensive

against such a massive crowd of refugees.

Instead, the 19th was given over to a visit by the president of the interim government,

Théodore Sindikubwabo, who met with Bucyibaruta and senior officials in Gikongoro town.

Sindikubwabo’s message, according to Joseph Ntegeyintwali, a deputy-préfet, was “to kill all

the Tutsis who had congregated in Murambi and Cyanika.” The participants intensified the

propaganda tours, the recruitment efforts and the distribution of arms. To spare them, and to

enlarge what was seen as a battlefield, Hutu families in the area were relocated to a school in


In the early hours of 21 April, David Havugimana took up his machete when Sebuhura, in the

company of other officials, came and announced: “‘All the men should wake up! We want

their help to go and fight the Tutsis in Murambi!’” Havugimana and thousands of other

interahamwe gathered at Kabeza. Standing guard at the roadblock there, Emmanuel

Nyirimbuga watched as armed men congregated around his post.

By 3:00 a.m., Kabeza was swarming with interahamwe and more were arriving all the time.

Then the gendarmes came with guns, grenades and other weapons I had never even seen


The militiamen were then given a series of instructions from their leaders and told of the

tactics to employ. They covered their faces with a variety of leaves, both as camouflage and

as a means of distinguishing themselves from those whose lives they were to take.

Semakwavu, said Havugimana, cheered on the militiamen, telling them: “‘You must get ready

to begin the war against the Tutsis!’”

“Blood Flowed Like a River”

At 3:00 a.m. on 21 April, Bucyibaruta, Simba, Semakwavu, Sebuhura and Havugimana,

amongst other officials, had gathered at Murambi, together with the gendarmes and

militiamen who would follow their lead. The massacre that would leave an estimated 50,000

people dead began when they told the gendarmes to open fire. In a well-calculated effort to

maximize the effectiveness of the bombardment, civilians armed with traditional weapons


encircled the camp. Refugees who tried to dodge the grenades and bullets confronted this

barricade of militiamen, including Gaspard Ayirwanda.

The sky had turned red because of the bullets and the grenades. Our group took up a position

at the entrance of the camp. We were told to mow down the Tutsis who wanted to force their

way through our wall. It was easy to pick them out because, unlike us, they weren’t wearing

anything distinctive. I killed five people with a massue.

The refugees in the large courtyard at the entrance to the school—mostly men and boys—

were the first to feel the impact of the firing. They fought back courageously, hurling stones

from the courtyard and from the large administrative building. Grâce Mukantarindwa, then

19, was among the women and girls who backed them up by supplying the stones. “They died

after battling desperately,”,, she said. They were no match for the well-armed and experienced

gendarmes. “It was a hopeless fight,” concluded Grâce.

Déo Nsengiyumva, aged 24 at the time, saw his father and many other men succumb to the

burst of the first grenade.

They didn’t die right away; they remained there, barely breathing. Everyone was engaged in

the fight. And since there were so many attackers, we couldn’t even move them away from

the grenades and bullets that were coming down like rain. I heard all sorts of noises: cries of

pain from the dying, women praying, children screaming, wounded men asking us not to die

without a fight and, of course, gunshots.

The ammunition ran out at about 6:00 a.m., and a certain Mureramanzi, described as “an

excellent driver”, was sent to replenish the ammunition from the gendarmerie camp. After a

short pause, the detonations and the gunshots began again at 6:20 a.m. and lasted until 9:00

a.m. But the massacre continued on as peasants and militiamen, brandishing machetes,

swords, axes and nail-studded clubs known as massues, entered the school grounds to finish

off the wounded and the dying. Didacienne was in one of the classrooms at the back of the

school grounds.

They went straight for my grandmother and struck her on the forehead with a machete. She

immediately fell to the ground. There were close to 40 people in the room. They lashed out

blindly with their machetes, hitting every part of the body indiscriminately. My grandfather

was also slashed with a machete. At least four men struck each victim. My brother’s skull was

fractured by a rock.

Not knowing where to go, Marie Mujawimana just bolted out of the two-storey building.

The wounded staggered around us, screaming. We dispersed as people tried to run from the

grenades and the guns. There were dead bodies and wounded refugees falling from upstairs

and tumbling down to the courtyard. Even some who hadn’t been touched leapt out because

they were so completely petrified.

Marie and others either took cover in the bushes and banana plantations, headed to the homes

of relatives and friends or set out on the route north towards the Parish of Cyanika in Karama

which sheltered over 10,000 Tutsis. The refugees who were still alive in the school feigned

death underneath heaps of bodies or by smearing themselves with blood.


Around 10:30 a.m., Bucyibaruta, Semakwavu, Simba and Sebuhura stood around the camp

with the militiamen. They offered congratulations, but indicated that the work was not over.

Vincent de Paul Nsabiyera, who had made his own contribution, heard Bucyibaruta’s address.

The préfet thanked everyone, especially the interahamwe from Mudasomwa, for what had

been accomplished. Cars were put at the disposal of the bravest so they could go and lend a

hand to the militiamen of Karama who had also begun to exterminate the thousands of Tutsis

at Cyanika.

After being assured that the Tutsi-owned stores in town would be theirs to loot once they had

completed the new task at hand, the men from Mudasomwa were immediately driven to

Cyanika. The other militiamen turned their attention to the possessions of the dead on the

school grounds and also in Gikongoro town. Cows, money, and later land, were among the

most sought after treasures, but even bloodstained clothing, mattresses and cooking utensils

were taken by the militia and local residents, including women and girls. Jean-Pierre

Sindikubwabo made sure he got his reward.

I managed to take a bloody mattress. I wasn’t embarrassed to carry it on my head.

Blood trailed behind me on the road. I washed it at the police camp. There were no

roadblocks to stop us. Everyone was satisfied with the mass killings.

“Plunged Back into the Horror”

Within a few days of the start of the genocide, Tutsis from the communes of Karama,

Rukondo and Kinyamakara filled all the buildings at the Catholic Parish of Cyanika,

including the church and its adjacent enclosed courtyard, the health centre and the primary

school. Some of the survivors from Murambi, like Marie-Chantal Mukamunana, ran to

Cyanika on the 21st.

We had left Murambi with approximately 1,500 people, but not more than 200 actually

reached Cyanika. Many were massacred along the way and others drowned in the

Muzirankwavu river, which had flooded over because of the recent rains. I almost drowned

myself, but the water threw me to the opposite bank and I continued to run.

As Grâce moved from Murambi to Cyanika, one thought was uppermost in her mind: to urge

the refugees at Cyanika to flee to Burundi. But as soon as she got inside the church gates, at

about 11:00 a.m., she found herself “plunged back into the horror again.” The men from

Mudasomwa, who had been singled out for their “sterling performance” in Murambi, and

militiamen from other communes, had joined forces with their counterparts in Karama. Grâce

found the massacre eerily familiar.

The killings followed exactly the same pattern as Murambi, beginning with guns and the

lobbing of grenades. They used firearms for a long time.

During the second phase, men armed with traditional weapons found Grâce.

This time, I didn’t escape. I was hit in the face with a machete, on the left side.


She drifted in and out of consciousness and realized, when she saw their corpses, that the

people she had hoped to save with a timely warning, had been killed.

“Death Wasn’t Ready For Me”

Those who had the good fortune to leave Murambi and Cyanika with no wounds or minimal

injuries faced immediate and continued danger outside, as militiamen persisted in a

meticulous hunt for survivors. Given the impossible odds, it is not surprising that the women,

men and children who gave their testimonies attribute their survival to sheer luck.

After leaving the massacre site, Collette was distraught, traumatised and “so afraid of being

hacked up by a machete,” that she tried to take her own life.

I threw myself into a small stream that was nearby, but I didn’t die. I told myself that death

wasn’t ready for me.

For Collette and many others, luck included the kindness of Hutu friends and acquaintances.

Collette was given asylum by Triphonie, an elderly woman who had helped her in the past.

Luck for others came from the fact that their tormentors were in great haste, perhaps to run

after someone else, or to share in the spoils of the genocide. But there were also those,

especially the elderly or parents who had lost all their children, who were deliberately left

alive in order, as the militia said so often, “to die of sorrow.”

Concealing the Evidence

There followed an attempt to keep the evidence from coming to the attention of visiting

journalists and the international community. This, as well as concern about the spread of

disease, prompted the office of the préfecture to initiate burials without delay. Local officials

provided bulldozers and called on prisoners from Gikongoro central prison to dump the

corpses into mass graves. The bourgmestres of Murambi and Cyanika, Semakwavu and

Ngezahayo, supervised the proceedings, which “completely lacked dignity” as one observer

admitted. The reason why was spelt out by Callixte Hategekimana, responsible for roads and

bridges in Gikongoro, who arranged for the bulldozers.

These people were looked upon as an enemy. The burial was not organized as a gesture of

respect for them. Rather, it was a way of sparing the population the outbreak of an epidemic.

With thousands of victims at the two massacre sites, the burial stretched out over four days.

On 26 April, Bucyibaruta organized an unusually large summit to assess the situation and to

discuss future strategies. All the deputy-préfets, bourgmestres and councillors were in

attendance. Ngezahayo gave details about the agenda and the mood that day.

It was felt that we had achieved a great deal. Our officials were very happy as they had

become convinced that Gikongoro would be regarded as the préfecture that had done the most

in the genocide. Afterwards, we had beer and lots of meat.


It was agreed to urge the population to go back to farming and to ask civil servants to return to

work at the beginning of May. The return to normality was linked to a message intended for

the outside world. Ngezahayo emphasized another topic—how to deal with the remaining


It was decided that we should say a truce had been declared, a way of making survivors come

out of their hiding places, after which they were killed. The purpose was to ensure that there

really would be no one left in the Tutsi community.

Kigeme hospital was one of the last places in Gikongoro to still accommodate a significant

number of Tutsis. At the end of May, they were visited by the interahamwe. Bucyibaruta,

Semakwavu and Sebuhura arrived in the midst of the massacre. They put aside a group of

women and arranged their transport to Murambi in order to convince foreigners that Tutsis

had not been massacred in Rwanda. .

Echoing the other women who went with her to Murambi, Espérance Mukagashugi described

the school as “a mass grave.”

Traces of blood were everywhere on the walls. And in the courtyard there were pools of

congealed blood, blackened by the sun.

“In Murambi”, commented Suzanne Uwamurera, “we lived a very miserable life.” Their

misery included abductions, rape, hunger and thirst.

A contingent of French soldiers, part of Operation Turquoise, stationed themselves at

Murambi when they arrived in Rwanda in late June. In addition to those who were already

there, other survivors came to Murambi in search of protection. By then, the interim

government faced the prospect of military defeat, and many of the killers who had begun

retreating into Zone Turquoise were also housed at the school, making the survivors feel ill at

ease and fearful.

Survival in Extreme Solitude”

Survivors in Gikongoro and elsewhere lost their families and friends. They speak of being

overwhelmed by loneliness, of living with a permanent sense of emptiness. Simon Mutangana

said he did not know “how to explain the life of a survivor in Gikongoro because it is so


Between my wife and myself, we lost about 150 members of our extended family in Murambi.

Our two daughters, aged six and four, died at Murambi; only the child my wife was carrying

on her back survived. Two of my brothers were also killed in Murambi.

Loss of family is a tragedy with incalculable losses. In a country like Rwanda, the family is

not only a pool of people bound together by ties of blood, love and mutual dependence. It is

also an economic lifeline, the most basic and reliable form of social security, and a source of

practical support and protection. In a society that remains overwhelmingly rural, it is also a

vital source of labour.


As they mourn the immense human toll, survivors deal with other grievances which are wideranging

and cut deep. The loss of property and the destruction of their houses threw most of

them, especially those in rural communities, into sudden poverty and took away the anchor of

a family home. Fear of encountering former neighbours can still be a powerful deterrent in

cultivating their land. Didacienne, like most survivors, is haunted by the fact that she has not

been able to give her parents and siblings a dignified burial.

No-one is sure they have buried their own relatives who were at Murambi, but they try to

believe it to avoid torment. Personally, I condemn myself for the fact that I have not buried my

parents, brothers and sisters.

Their preoccupation with justice, seen as a prerequisite for genuine healing, is broad and their

bitterness at its limitations affects every aspect of their being. Those who seek to challenge

impunity feel targeted and sometimes intimidated into silence. The tension between him and

his neighbours is such that Déo does not dare return to live in his family’s home.

How can I live with someone who, even today, doesn’t want to tell me what happened during

the genocide? Our security situation is very precarious. Those we have identified as

génocidaires and their families harass and insult us everywhere we go, saying that we are

accusing them for nothing because they will surely be released.

Given the unprecedented and extraordinary degree of popular participation in killing, raping

and looting, the decimation of the Tutsi community, the ties of family, friendship and

complicity between those who killed and potential witnesses, and the exodus abroad of the

planners and organizers, justice for the most part remains elusive. “In certain parts of

Gikongoro,” added Déo, “the entire Tutsi community was eliminated. There is no-one left to

accuse the perpetrators.”

The principal architects of the genocide at Murambi, the men who bear the ultimate

responsibility, live abroad. And to date, only Col. Simba has been prosecuted; in December

2005 he was given a 25 year sentence by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Emmanuel Nteziryayo, the bourgmestre of Mudasomwa, was arrested in the UK in December

2006 and is currently in detention awaiting extradition hearings. But the others live as free

men. Bucyibaruta is in France while Sebuhura, Semakwavu and Havugimana are thought to

be living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their absence undermines the process of

justice in Rwanda, as Séraphine Mutegaraba noted.

Unfortunately, the leading organizers of the genocide, not only in Mudasomwa but elsewhere

in Gikongoro, are all at liberty abroad. This is very disheartening for everyone involved in


Preventing Genocide and Nurturing Tolerance

Tragically, the story of Murambi is not yet over. It continues both in the pain of survivors and

in the denials from some of the perpetrators and witnesses. Attempts to deny, against all the

evidence, that the bones which now lie at Murambi are those of genocide victims are a

particular source of distress. There is as yet no well-established answer to the question of how

to promote tolerance and prevent future violence, but it seems clear from the example of the


1994 genocide itself that selective representations of the past can be exploited to sever

communities. We hope that the survivors and perpetrators who have been willing to publicly

testify to their experiences of the genocide in Murambi will contribute to justice and prevent

revisionist accounts.

Thomas, living close by, suggested that “Murambi will be respected, even honoured, by all

Rwandese citizens when they have a common understanding about the genocide.” The late Fr.

Modeste Mungwarareba lost some of his relatives in the massacre at Murambi and gave

considerable thought to how such an understanding might be reached. Fr. Modeste first

experienced a massacre in Gikongoro in 1963 when he was 12. In an interview before his

death, he was emphatic that only justice can lead to reconciliation and peace.

The solution to the problem, both for those who have lost their loved ones and for those who

have been involved in the killings, will come through justice. Justice is the path to

reconciliation and reconstruction and should be seen as a mark of respect for all those who

suffered a horrific death.

To nurture the collective vision that Thomas has in mind, Fr. Modeste argued that it was

essential for perpetrators, witnesses and survivors to all remember, and encourage others to

remember, the crimes of 1994. His thoughts on the preservation of the memory of the

genocide, still apply:

The reason why they should not forget and should keep the memories alive in the hearts of

others has nothing to do with perpetuating feelings of hatred and vengeance. Far from it. The

purpose is rather to educate the hearts and minds of every citizen of Rwanda. The genocide

was engendered by racist ideas and teaching. These racist teachings were published in books;

they influenced people who read them, and ordinary people were told about them at public

meetings in their commune or sector. If all this is written down, it will be like a “road sign”

which directs travellers on their way through the dangerous twists and turns of life.

Every Rwandese who was in the country at the time has his own story to tell of the path he

trod and the events he witnessed. Writing down these personal histories for the benefit of

others, helps to guard against any repeat whilst, at the same time, helping people put behind

them the horror of the bloodbath they escaped.

It is in this spirit, and with the same aspirations, that “Go. If You Die, Perhaps I Will Live: Awas

Collective Account of Death and Survival in Murambi, Gikongoro, April-July 1994