Nyarubuye Memorial
The Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial was created on 14th April 1995 and is located near the Tanzanian border. This area is part of the former commune of Rusumo. The Memorial is located close to a convent of Catholic nuns and its foundation stone was laid in 1995 by the then-Vice President Paul Kagame.

Eastern Province (Nyarubuye Village, Nyarutunga Cell, Nyarubuye Sector, Kirehe District)

The area of Nyarubuye belongs to the historical region of Gisaka Migongo. It is an area that is conducive to both agriculture and pastoralism. It was also an area known for beekeeping and for the unique way that people decorated their traditional houses (huts) known as Imigongo. The area of Nyarubuye, on the hill of Remera, was home to Bazimya, the son of King Kimenyi. The residents of Nyarubuye speak not only Kinyarwanda but other dialects such as Ikirashi and Igihima. These dialects are mostly spoken in the sectors of Mpanga and Nasho as well as in Tanzania.

Early Violence 1959 – 1962

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, and consistent with actions against Tutsi across Rwanda, many Tutsis in the Nyarubuye area were victimized and fled to neighbouring countries. Given the proximity of the border, Tutsis from this area usually fled to Tanzania. Those unable to escape took refuge in the parish of Nyarubuye where they were protected by the priest. However, many had their houses burned, cattle and property looted and others were killed.

First Republic 1st July 1962 – 4th July 1973

In 1963, under the regime of President Grégoire Kayibanda, educated Tutsis were specifically targeted and killed, including teachers and medical doctors. Some of the killings were more arbitrary, for example killers came to the home of Biniga looking for his two children but when they could not be found, they killed all others present in the house at that time. Most of these killings took place in the Rusumo forest.  

The sector and commune leaders were directly involved in the persecution of Tutsis, with leaders holding special meetings to develop strategies and plans to disrupt communal harmony between Hutus and Tutsis.  Tutsis continued to be limited in their access to education with the only alternative being to enroll in the seminaries. In 1973, Tutsi students and staff members at Zaza Secondary School in Kibungo prefecture were targeted for violence, with perpetrators encouraged by the head of the prefecture to conduct violent acts.

Second Republic 5th July 1973 – 6th April 1994

The persecution of Tutsis continued during the Second Republic and was consistent with national policy elsewhere.  In Nyarubuye, Tutsis could were limited in their access to public education and to jobs in the local administration. However, there continued to be a high degree of social harmony amongst the people of Nyarubuye, including intermarriage and gifting of cattle, which signified strong bonds between Hutu and Tutsi.

After the RPF Inkotanyi launched its armed rebellion in 1990, the authorities in Rwanda said that it was an attack by the Inyenzi (cockroaches) from Uganda.  Later, they argued that the Tutsis inside Rwanda had attacked the Hutus as part of a strategy to reverse the gains made by Hutus since independence. Similar to other areas, the Tutsi in Nyarubuye were said to be accomplices of the Inyenzi and therefore not to be trusted. Many were arrested, beaten, and jailed. Others were killed.

As political parties were establishing themselves in the early 1990s, many Tutsis in this area belonged to the Liberal Party (PL), which had some alliance with the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR) and the Democratic Socialist Party (PSD). This alliance helped to protect Tutsis from persecution as leaders of these parties could help speak out against violence and victimization.

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Genocide 6th April 1994 – 19th July 1994

On 7th April 1994, people were ordered by a radio announcement to remain in their homes. The following day, Tutsis arrived in Nyarubuye from various places where killings had already started. Most of these people entered Nyarubuye Church; others went to join family friends in the area.

According to testimonies collected since the 1994 genocide, the people of Nyarubuye, Hutus and Tutsis alike, hid and protected many of the Tutsis who had arrived from elsewhere. The local population appeared determined to ensure that killings that they had heard were already underway in Rukira should not take place in Nyarubuye. Gendarmes came to the neighbouring area of Nasho and encouraged Hutus to kill Tutsis, as a result of which some people in Nyarubuye began to collaborate with the Interahamwe and gendarmes and participated in killings.

The militia did not commence attacks for several days, but when they did, the initial focus was on Tutsis’ homes. Some Tutsi were killed whilst others escaped and fled to the Nyarubuye Catholic Church. Others attempted to escape to Tanzania but many were intercepted on the journey around the Rusumo border, and forced by the Interahamwe to return to Nyarubuye. The commune burgomaster, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, organized a group of people to escort all Tutsis to the parish church, claiming that this would guarantee their safety. 

By the 12th April, the number of Tutsis at the church had grown considerably, many from the communes of Rukira, Rusumo, Birenga, Kigarama and Rukara. On 13th April, a census was undertaken to count the number of Tutsi at the church and surrounding area; the number of Tutsis estimated in that census was 35,000. During the counting, Tutsis believed the aim was to help the burgomaster in determining how much support would be required; however, the figures were actually used to quantify the number of killers needed.

That evening, gendarmes and militia attacked from various points armed with guns, machetes, swords, grenades, as well as other traditional weapons. Having surrounded the area, they launched an assault on the church, systematically killing Tutsis over several hours; they first led with gendarmes armed with guns and grenades and then followed up with large numbers of Interahamwe killers. The following day, the burgomaster, together with Evariste Rubanguka, a judge at the commune level, ordered capsicum to be sprayed on the piles of bodies in order to ascertain whether some had survived. Evariste himself was seen applying the capsicum spray.

The levels of violence were significantly high in Nyarubuye, even in the context of the overall genocide. In the bathroom belonging to the nuns, girls were raped and pregnant women had their stomachs opened prior to killing them and the fetus then thrown into the toilets. Prior to killing some of the girls and women, they would first penetrate them through the vagina with sharpened pieces of wood. Children were smashed against the kitchen wall killing them instantly.

Other symbolic actions designed to dehumanize those about to die took place. The monument of the Virgin Mary was destroyed because “she looked like a Tutsi.”  Symbolically, destroying the monument meant that “God had abandoned the Tutsi.”  As the killers beheaded the Tutsis with their machetes, they poured blood into imivure (a traditional receptacle), shouting: “May the blood of Tutsi become the milk they are fond of.”

Only 18 people out of the 35,000 inside the church survived.

Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial

The Nyarubuye memorial site has a small exhibition that describes how the genocide was committed, the weapons used and how the attack was conducted.  In just two days, more than 35,000 Tutsis were killed.

Two weeks after the massacres began, the RPF Inkotanyi captured Nyarubuye. The soldiers found dead bodies being eaten by dogs. They dug a mass grave in front of the church, wrapped the bodies in tents, and buried them.

The mass graves at the Nyarubuye memorial site contain at least 51,000 bodies, collected from both the church massacre and from neighbouring sectors.