Twenty Years Ago Today: Genocide, Day Four

Rwanda-Genocide-1994-1Twenty years ago today, foreigners escaping the hell of Kigali were beginning to tell their stories to the press. They spoke of gangs of men with knives, machetes and clubs roaming the streets, and bodies lying rotting in the sun. Being a foreigner was no protection from the killers, who would typically shake their victims down for money and, once satisfied, tell them that they were safe - until the next gang came along looking for someone to kill. For many relief organisations, it was rapidly becoming impossible to continue their work. The 13 staff of Medecins Sans Frontieres were pulled out, leaving Kigali hospital to its fate - a fate they could not have prevented even if they had stayed. Earlier that day, a hundred Tutsis who had survived attacks were slaughtered by militiamen, even as they being treated for their wounds in the tents put up around the hospital to cope with the influx of casualties. The International Committee of the Red Cross remained, but other groups would be compelled to leave as the days went on.

Seven miles west of Kigali, Tutsi staff at a Catholic orphanage were targeted and murdered. One of them was carrying a Hutu ID card but was killed anyway, simply because she looked like a Tutsi. Bodies were thrown into a toilet pit, regardless of whether or not they were still alive. And the people who did this were not strangers - they were Hutu youngsters known to the staff they were killing.

For once, this story has a happier ending. The surviving staff and nuns were able to get a number of women and children to safety with the aid of Belgian and French forces. If it had been an orphanage run by a local organisation, it's hard to see how this would have been possible. Doubtless there were many such places where every single person was killed, with no record of the murders and the bodies dumped in mass graves that gave no clue as to their identity.