Kibeho Memorial
The Kibeho Genocide Memorial was created on 13th April 1998. Together, the Catholic Church, genocide survivors, and local administrative authorities agreed to divide the church building into two parts: one side to continue being used by Christians for celebrating mass; the other serving as a genocide memorial. 28,937 victims who were killed at Kibeho and in neighbouring sectors are buried in the mass graves that are situated in front of the church. The 13th of April each year is dedicated to the commemoration of the Kibeho genocide victims at this memorial. Only 43 people are believed to have survived the mass killings inside the church.

Southern Province (Agatego Village, Kibeho Cell, Kibeho Sector, Nyaruguru District)

Historically, Kibeho was situated in the Nyaruguru Chiefdom, led by Chief Sendashonga, who was replaced by Kayihura in 1945. Later on, Kayihura was appointed to the post of Chief of Bugoyi and was replaced in Kibeho by Chief Mbanda. The Deputy Chief of Kibeho was Sebareme, son of Gateganyi, replaced by Nyamwasa son of Munyetambi. The Deputy Chief Nyamwasa was governing the chiefdom until a change was implemented by MDR Parmehutu. He was replaced by Déogratias Nikozivuze, who was a teacher.

Kibeho was a region populated by Tutsi and Hutu living harmoniously. Intermarriage was commonplace.

Early Violence 1959 – 1962

Similar to other areas of the country, the leaders of MDR Parmehutu, supported by the Belgian authorities, sensitized the population to believe that the Tutsi had for many years oppressed the Hutus and that it was now their time to come to power.

The Deputy Chief of Kibeho, however, had married a Tutsi woman and he gave orders that the Tutsi would not be killed as was happening in other regions; but that their houses had to be burned in order to demonstrate that the Hutus had power over them. 

Following a referendum on 25th September 1961, which supported Rwanda becoming a republic, the violence against Tutsis in Kibeho worsened. Hutus attacked Tutsis, burned their property and began forcible relocation; some Tutsis were killed, others left the country. Whilst there was some Tutsi resistance, the MDR Parmehutu leaders were supported by the Belgian authorities with advanced military capability, making resistance difficult.

First Republic 1st July 1962 – 4th July 1973

During the regime of President Grégoire Kayibanda, the Inyenzi attacks being carried out by Tutsis based outside Rwanda served as a pretext for dehumanising Tutsis in Rwanda and killing them as alleged accomplices. A series of massacres over a two-week period in December 1962 saw between 8,000 and 10,000 killed and many bodies thrown into rivers; a precursor of the 1994 genocide.

At the same time, Tutsis were deprived of full access to public education and employment in the public sector. The Kayibanda regime ended in March 1973, at which point in Gikongoro, lists of Tutsis to be fired were drawn up and those listed often had to resign their jobs. At Kibeho Girls’ Secondary School, Tutsi students and teachers were forced to leave the school.

Second Republic 5th July 1973 – 6th April 1994

During the Second Republic, the policy of ethnic equilibrium was introduced under the leadership of President Juvénal Habyarimana. Through this formal imposition of discriminatory quotas, Tutsis continued to be deprived of secondary education and employment, while Hutus enjoyed privileged access to schools and jobs. The historian Jean Pierre Chrétien has referred to this policy of equilibrium as “tropical Nazism.

In October 1990, when the RPF Inkotanyi attacked Rwanda for the first time, the Tutsis of Kibeho were subjected to increased abuse, as the Tutsi were in other regions across Rwanda. During the introduction of the multi-party system, many people originating from Gikongoro joined the MDR and the effect of Parmehutu ideology was evident. Some Hutus went to Butare to encourage discrimination and genocidal ideology as many residents in Butare had refused to participate.

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Genocide 6th April 1994 – 19th July 1994

The genocide in Kibeho started several days after the assassination of President Habyarimana, which took place on 6th April 1994.  On 11th April, Damien Biniga, the Sub-Prefect of Munini, delivered a speech at Gisizi Market making clear that Tutsis who had moved to Kibeho Parish were going to be attacked.

Thousands of Tutsis had gathered at Kibeho Church, where they had been welcomed by Father Pierre Ngoga, who was a Tutsi. They had moved to Kibeho from Mata, Rwamiko, Runyinya, Gorwe, Gisororo and Matyazo sectors, where the killings had already started. Many had been wounded but managed to escape. The Tutsis believed that Kibeho Church would be a place of safety, and this confidence resulted in many more Tutsis seeking refuge there.

The centralization of Tutsis in one location was ideal for those planning the massacre and it was reinforced by gendarmes who encouraged other Tutsis in the region to go to the church for protection. On 9th April, Biniga gave orders to the Interahamwe militia not to attack the Tutsis who were at Kibeho Church as he wanted to wait until as many as possible were in the one location.  By 11th April, an estimated 30,000 Tutsi had gathered at the Kibeho Parish.

On that day, Biniga visited the church site and requested that Father Ngoga attend a meeting at Munini Sub-Prefecture. Father Ngoga refused and later refused a request for refugees to attend a meeting. Biniga remonstrated with Father Ngoga and then left. As soon as Biniga had left Kibeho Church, the Interahamwe militia attacked with machetes and other weapons. The Tutsis in the church were able to repel the attack due to their number and by using stones that were readily available.  

On 12th April, Biniga again went to Kibeho Church accompanied by members of the local authority including: Juvénal Ndabalinze, director of Mata Tea Factory; Silas Mugerangabo, burgomaster of Mubuga Commune; Innocent Bakundukize, agronomist of Mubuga Commune, and Father Emmanuel Uwayezu, director of Groupe Scolaire Marie Merci de Kibeho. He told the refugees that there were inyenzi, or cockroaches, among them and that they had to identify them or die with them. During his speech, another attack was launched by Interahamwe militia who arrived in buses led by a policeman, Athanase Saba. The gendarmes with Biniga were armed with grenades and surrounded the Tutsi to prevent anybody from escaping.  Father Ngoga told the refugees to defend themselves, which they did, again using stones and fragments of tiles, however six people were killed. 

On 13th April, the militia launched two attacks; the first killed 200 people and the second an estimated 2,000. The refugees were becoming increasingly weak with no food or water, thus making resistance more difficult. Again, Biniga visited the church and told the survivors that he would appoint gendarmes to provide security and stay at the site.

The main attacks commenced on 14th April in the early morning and continued throughout the day and into the 15th April. Father Ngoga recognized the upscaling of the attacks and told the refugees to repent to God so as to seek everlasting life in Heaven. The attacks began with gunfire and grenades being thrown into the crowds, with larger groups of attackers following up with machetes and clubs. The attacks continued throughout the day until darkness when the Interahamwe militia withdrew but promised to return. It is estimated that only 2,000 of the original 30,000 survived that day.

A member of the Interahamwe later reported that Biniga told them not to be afraid to attack the Tutsis because he would support them with guns.  The attacks involved leading members of local authorities including Silas Mugirangabo, burgomaster of Rwamiko Commune, and Charles Nyiridandi, burgomaster of Mubuga Commune.

At the end of that day, Father Ngoga assembled the survivors and told them to leave Kibeho Parish and try to reach Butare or Burundi. He told them that it would be better to die escaping rather than waiting to be killed. A few managed to escape to Burundi; Father Ngoga was later killed in Butare.

The following morning on 15th April, there was a final attack led by Biniga and supported by gendarmes and Interahamwe militia. Tutsis that had not escaped sealed themselves into the church, blocking the doors with chairs. When the attackers could not break down the doors, they set fire to them until they were able to throw grenades into the church. They then entered, killing those inside with machetes.

Kibeho Genocide Memorial Site

Development of the Kibeho Genocide Memorial ended up becoming the subject of considerable debate and discussion. Some wanted the church to become a memorial site, while others, primarily from the Catholic Church, wanted the church to remain a place of worship. A compromise was reached following a meeting on the 24th May 2002 between representatives of the Catholic Church, families of the victims and the government. A decision was taken that allowed one part of the church to become a place for prayer and the remainder to be used as the genocide memorial. It was also decided to build a wall to separate the place for prayer from a mass grave where victims would be buried. Approximately 28,000 victims have been buried at this genocide memorial site.