Twenty Years Ago Today: Nyarubuye

nyarubuyeTwenty years ago today, the genocidaires of Rwanda were learning their trade with a sickening efficiency. They'd realised that going house to house was a slow way to kill people. But if you could get all your victims in one place and trap them there, then you could deal with hundreds or thousands all at once. That's exactly what was happening, all over the country: Tutsis and moderate Hutus fled their homes and went to a place they hoped would be safe, only to be betrayed, penned in, and then massacred by the Interahamwe, working their way through screaming crowds with clubs, machetes, hoes, or whatever else came to hand. At Nyarubuye, it happened in a church.

This was far from unusual. In fact, it was common. There were houses of worship all over Rwanda to which people fled, and where the priests often betrayed them to the killers. Nyarubuye is just one where we know a reasonable amount about what happened, thanks to a handful of survivors who fell under the bodies of their family members while they were being hacked to bits by their friends and neighbours.

Their money was taken from them first. Then grenades were thrown as the killers shouted that snakes must have their heads chopped off. Children and infants had their heads smashed in with stones and hammers. Pregnant women were hacked open so their unborn children could be finished off. It began at 3 in the afternoon, and went on until the next day.

The survivors were battered and wounded, and did not dare leave the church for weeks on end, even as the bodies of their loved ones rotted around them. They drank rainwater and helped the weaker ones to survive with what little food they had. Wild dogs came to feed on the corpses, and were made to leave by thrown stones. Eventually, they were rescued, and some even survived the infections in their wounds. Other survivors were less fortunate. Some women were taken away to be used as sex slaves and raped hundreds of times, enduring unwanted pregnancies and AIDS infections - if they weren't killed later during the genocide.

Nyarubuye church still stands. The corpses have been removed to a mass grave. The buildings are used as a memorial and museum for those who perished: 1,500 victims who died in terror and agony.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Genocide, Day Five

Don Bosco Technical School. Note the flags on the flowerpots - this was once a Belgian barracks. The shooting started after they left. Twenty years ago today, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that 20,000 people had already been killed, though it was hard to say how bad things were outside the capital. Thousands of killings went unreported. That's why so many of the horror stories of the genocide come from Kigali: there were outsiders there to witness them. Elsewhere, the witnesses either died or had good reason to keep their mouths shut.

Before the nightmare began, the UN commander Romeo Dallaire had predicted one part of the Hutu strategy to accomplish genocide. Belgian soldiers would be killed, forcing Belgium to withdraw its peacekeepers, leaving the Tutsi population with vastly less protection than it had. His predictions were ignored - and were now coming true. The killings had happened at the beginning of the genocide when 10 soldiers protecting Agathe Uwilingiyimana were killed, and Belgian forces were in the process of being withdrawn.

For the Tutsis sheltering at the Don Bosco Technical School, it could not have come at a worse time. The school had been used by Belgian soldiers as a barracks, and was still occupied - by them and 2,000 people sheltering there who thought that the soldiers from their former colonial master would protect them. Yet the Belgians weren't allowed to do so. They could shoot dogs harrying corpses in the streets outside the school, but not the growing numbers of Interahamwe militiamen converging on the site.

The killers were well aware of how many people were huddling inside. All that stopped them was the risk that the soldiers might be provoked if they moved to take the barracks. As they waited, they drank beer and chanted Hutu slogans, leaving the Tutsis inside terrified and begging the soldiers to stay.

The soldiers were ordered to the airport during the afternoon. The Interahamwe moved in. And the killing began. Hours later, the majority of those who had looked to Belgium and the UN for safety were dead.

There was some hope, though. The forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front were making swift gains towards Kigali, and shutting down the genocide as they went. But this did nothing to slow the killings in the capital. The slaughter went on.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Genocide, Day Three

Rwandan ChildTwenty years ago today, the world finally sat up and took notice of the killings spreading throughout Rwanda. Planes departed France, Belgium and the US with troops on board, heading for Kigali with one overriding mission: getting their own people out. Civilians from these nations were shepherded to their planes and whisked away to safety, but hardly any Rwandans were permitted to escape by this means - not even those who had worked at foreign companies and embassies. Convoys heading out by road towards Burundi were specifically prohibited from carrying any Rwandans, lest the whole column be stopped and trapped in the country. In Gikondo, the Pallottine Missionary Catholic Church was being used as a shelter by hundreds of Tutsis - but to no avail. Gendarmes were informed that inyenzi (cockroaches) were sheltering there, and entered to check ID cards despite the pleas of the priest that they were all regular worshippers. The Gendarmes did nothing else - they did not need to. Soon, a hundred members of the Interahamwe militia arrived with clubs and machetes, and the killing began. Children were not spared. Pews were ripped up so they could have no hiding place. They were hacked to pieces wherever they were found.

The church was Polish, and two Polish officers from UNAMIR witnessed the massacre. They radioed their command for help, but were told that none could be sent - similar reports were coming in from all over the city, far too many for the UN to be able to help. And in any case, they had orders to shoot only in self defence. They tried the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front as well, but either couldn't get through or found that the Kigali contingent were trapped in their barracks.

In the afternoon, an ambulance from the Red Cross arrived to assist the officers and church staff who had been desperately trying to treat the wounded. They were able to take two survivors away to hospital - the only ones who escaped the massacre. Though whether they escaped the hospital is another question...

Twenty Years Ago Today: The Shell House Massacre

Twenty years ago today, 20,000 or more Inkatha Freedom Party demonstrators converged on Shell House, the headquarters of the African National Congress. The demonstration was angry, and loud. Security staff inside the building were nervous. There'd already been violence between the IFP and the ANC. Then the shooting began.

Eyewitnesses (including a journalist) inside Shell House said that pistols and shotguns were fired towards the building from the crowd, shattering windows and forcing people to take cover. Inkatha disagreed, and stated that there was no provocation for the security guards to blast the crowd with bullets from assault rifles. Either way, nineteen people lay dead once the shooting was over, and all of them were from Inkatha. The scandal rumbled on for years. Nelson Mandela admitted in 1995 that he had given an order for the security guards in the building to defend it with lethal force if they felt it necessary. Amnesty was eventually granted to eleven people by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the massacre remains a sore point between the ANC and IFP.

Yet both of these parties were opposed to Apartheid. Both of them had much to gain from its end, and the elections that were soon to come. The leader of the IFP, Mangosothu Buthelezi, had been a member of the ANC in his youth. You'd think they had a lot in common. But in spite of everything, Inkatha was planning to boycott the elections in protest. How did it come to this?

I can't give a full account of the differences between the two parties, but I can give you a quick summary. So far as I can make out, this is what happened...

The ANC was formed more than a century ago, in protest at the white domination of South Africa. It has a long tradition of opposing Apartheid - sometimes violently, through the Umkhonto weSizwe paramilitary organisation, formed because they despaired of ever achieving anything through political means. The Inkatha Freedom Party was created more recently, in 1975, building on the foundation of a cultural organisation in KwaZulu. Unlike the ANC, it pursued a peaceful path to power - but only on a local level, and through a system that used ethnic differences to ensure that native peoples would be kept divided.

Map showing the Bantustans, just before they were dissolved

Bantustans were areas in which black ethnic groups were given varying degrees of autonomy by the Apartheid government. But they were not particularly good places to live. Their governments were usually corrupt, and most people lived in poverty, forced to travel to South Africa proper for horrible, underpaid jobs. Inkatha came to represent the Zulu monarchy, and held power in the KwaZulu 'homeland'. This wasn't the worst Bantustan, but Inkatha was certainly complicit in the Apartheid policy of 'divide and rule'. With the end of white rule came the end of the Bantustans, which were folded back into South Africa during the course of 1994, and the people there given full citizenship so they could vote in the elections. KwaZulu became part of the KwaZulu Natal region, and the power base of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The ANC, though, wanted to represent everyone, and they weren't always bothered with whether or not people wanted this. So they campaigned against Inkatha in KwaZulu Natal, which inevitably annoyed Inkatha in the extreme. This wasn't a new problem; they'd been butting heads on this issue since the 1980's. When right-wing elements of the police offered military training and weapons in order to fight back, Inkatha accepted (as we saw earlier in the year). And thus two groups of people that could have been working together ended up trying to kill each other.

The Shell House Massacre was not the beginning of the enmity, nor was it the end. It was just one more horrible step along a path of rivalry that was only growing worse as the elections drew near...

Here's a 2013 news report on a protest to commemorate the massacre:

Twenty Years Ago Today: Massacre in Hebron

Baruch_GoldsteinTwenty years ago today, an American-born Israeli called Baruch Goldstein died. The inscription on his gravestone runs a bit like this: Here lies The saintly Dr. Reb Baruch Kappel Goldstein Of holy and blessed memory, May God avenge his blood.


Murdered as God’s martyr On Purim 1994 May his soul be bound in the bond of life

...which is pretty rich for a man who walked into a mosque dressed in army fatigues and carrying an assault rifle, with which he sprayed bullets at the congregation until 29 people were dead and 125 were injured. His own 'martyrdom' came after a fire extinguisher was thrown at his head, stunning him. The angry crowd then disarmed him and beat him to death.

He was an emergency doctor working in the occupied territories, and often treated casualties of the ongoing conflict between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians who objected to someone settling on their land. But he refused to treat any of the Arab victims; he hated them with a passion. He'd already acted on his hatred the year before, by pouring acid and blood onto prayer mats in the mosque. Letters were written to the Israeli Prime Minister in protest, but nothing was done.

Goldstein had long been an extremist. As a boy in Brooklyn, he'd joined the Jewish Defense League, a militant organisation created by Meir Kahane, a man who had a series of interesting views - for example, that a second Holocaust was about to happen in the US, so all Jews should get themselves to Israel immediately. Goldstein joined Kahane's political party Kach (now banned as a terrorist organisation) when he emigrated to Israel, and stood for the Knesset in 1984. Despite his participation in an election, he disliked the Israeli democratic system so much that he likened it to that of Nazi Germany. Just to make his point clear, he wore a yellow star with the word Jude written on it.

The massacre, in a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, was a blow to the peace process - as Goldstein perhaps intended. He was certainly troubled by the thought that there might be some kind of peace settlement, though it's hard to be clear about the mindset of someone who committed such a terrible act. Perhaps he thought he was striking before arab terrorists could do the same. In the event, his actions provided justification for other extremists to do equally abominable things, whichever side they were targeted at.

Perhaps most hideously, his tomb became a site of veneration for ultra-orthodox Jews who claimed, among other things, that he was '100 per cent perfect', and 'holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust'. A shrine was built by his grave, although that was torn down in 1999 after legislation was passed outlawing monuments to terrorism. The grave itself remained, and is still a focus for those who wish to celebrate Goldstein's murders - and continue the cycle of violence and hatred that continues to this day.

This video sums up the whole thing; it's very much from the Palestinian point of view, but it's about as close to being even-handed as such a thing is likely to get.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Massacre in the Marketplace

Twenty years ago today, high explosive shells were fired from the hills around Sarajevo onto a crowded marketplace within the city. 68 people were killed. 200 were injured. It was one of the bloodiest days of the whole Bosnian War, which lasted from 1992 to 1995. This video is almost unbearable to watch: raw, blown-out, glitchy footage of the aftermath, as bodies are pulled away. Some of them are put into the boots of cars - whether to be taken to hospital or just for burial, it's impossible to say. Do not press play if you cannot stand the sight of blood or dismemberment.

Sarajevo was under siege by Bosnian Serb forces, seeking to impose a Greater Serbia over the former Yugoslavia. Sarajevo was supposedly under the protection of UN forces - who had been instructed not to intervene in the fighting. They did, however, determine that the shells had come from Serbian positions. NATO decided to stop pissing about and make some threats of air strikes (though not any actual ones), and this did a little to persuade the Serbs to pull back. For a while.

This is known as the first Markale (Market) Massacre, which immediately tells you that even more awfulness lies in the future, just it did for Sudan with yesterday's massacre. On the 28th of August, 2005, it happened all over again, with 48 deaths and 75 wounded. This time, NATO got the go-ahead to launch air strikes (which, incidentally, was the first time that the Luftwaffe flew combat missions since world war 2). Peace followed not long after, though this was not the last of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Twenty Years Ago Today: All of this has happened before. And all of it will happen again.

_1062358_sudan300 Twenty years ago today, five gunmen stormed into the Ansar Al-Sunna mosque on the outskirts of Omdurman, Sudan, and opened fire upon the worshippers. When the guns fell silent, there were 19 dead and 26 injured.

Ansar Al-Sunna (not to be confused with the Iraqi insurgents that have a similar name) are an Islamic sect that prefers pacifism to violence. The gunmen were adherents of the Takfir wal-Hijra, a group that positively loves violence. They especially delight in using it to impose sharia law on anyone and everyone, and were unhappy that Ansar Al-Sunna disagreed with this.

This isn't the most appalling thing, though. The most appalling thing is what I discovered through inconsistencies in the reports of the incident: a confusion that had arisen because the same thing happened again six years later.

On December 8th, 2000, a lone gunman opened fire in the mosque as people were praying, killing 20 people and wounding 33. He did this for exactly the same reason as six years previously (if we can dignify any of this with the word 'reason'). The Sudanese president then cracked down on Takfir wal-Hijra, and tightened security laws so that people could be held for up to six months just on suspicion - though the killings may have been more of an excuse than anything else.

1994 is looking to be a bloody year. And this is not the last massacre we'll see this week.