Rwanda Buries Nearly 85,000 Genocide Victims 25 Years Later

Remains of nearly 85,000 genocide victims buried in Rwanda
AFP Yasuyoshi CHIBA

Rwanda finally laid to rest over the weekend the remains of nearly 85,000 genocide victims found in an estimated 143 mass graves beneath residential homes a month after the African country commemorated the 25th anniversary of the April 1994 slaughter.

Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, the chief of the umbrella organization for genocide survivors known as Ibuka, alleged that it is likely those living atop the mass graves knew what lay beneath, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reports. Echoing his superior, Egide Nkuranga, the vice-president of Ibuka, indicated to local newspaper the New Times that “some locals had even knowingly constructed houses atop of mass grave[s].”

Some people went as far as secretly relocating the remains from within the foundation of their homes built after the genocide to remove any traces.

The homeowners failed to inform authorities in Rwanda, where withholding information about the location of the remains of genocide victims is a crime.

Nkuranga indicated to the New Times:

It was impossible to identify most of the victims because, in most cases, not only acid was poured on their bodies so they could dissolve but the killers also applied salt blocks to completely crush the bones into ash.

Nevertheless, some people were still able to identify their family members by their teeth, clothing, and other remains.

Vowing that Ibuka will do everything in its power to find and ensure a decent burial for all genocide victims, Nkuranga conceded, “We also know that some of the victims will never be recovered, especially those that were dumped in rivers, lakes, and swamps.”

Deutsche Welle (DW) reports:

In a ceremony in [the capital of] Kigali on Saturday, the remains of 84,437 people murdered in the Rwandan Genocide were laid to rest at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial.

The burial came a month after the country commemorated the 25th anniversary of the massacre. The newly found victims were among more than 800,000 people, mostly belonging to the Tutsi minority ethnic group, that were massacred over 100 days by Hutu extremists and militia forces bent on eradicating them.

There were a total of 81 coffins containing the remains of the nearly 85,000 victims of the April 1994 massacre, AFP notes, adding that mourners sobbed as they buried their loved ones.

“Commemorating the genocide against the Tutsi is every Rwandan’s responsibility — and so is giving them a decent burial,” Rwanda’s Justice Minister Johnston Busingye declared at a mass burial ceremony on Saturday.

Authorities reportedly found the remains in 2018 in 143 pits underneath homes on the western outskirts of Kigali.

The mass graves contained “thousands of bone and clothing fragments,” AFP reports, adding:

Those exhumed for burial on Saturday came from just 43 such pits — leaving 100 more to go. A painstaking effort was undertaken so that family members could identify their loved ones by their teeth, clothing and other markings. They join 11,000 other victims already laid to rest at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial.

Dusingizemungu noted that a landlord from the area revealed the location of the remains only after authorities threatened him with arrest.

“More pits were later found when a man, tasked in 1994 with dumping corpses, came forward with new information,” AFP adds.

The New Times described the man who provided the information that led to the exhumation of the remains last year as a “drunken Genocide perpetrator.”

“Initially the tip-off was about one mass grave, then it led to another and then another one, until we discovered so many of such mass graves across the neighborhood,” Nkuranga told the newspaper.

“It is unfortunate that … these perpetrators, now free, never bothered to reveal to bereaved families the location of these grave sites, so they could get closure,” Dusingizemungu added, according to AFP.

Every April 7, the day the carnage began, residents of the African country commemorate the Rwanda Genocide with 100 days of mourning. The ethnic genocide against the Tutsi ended on July 4, 1994, courtesy of the Rwanda Patriotic Army, then under the command of now-President Paul Kagame.

According to a 2001 survey by the Government of Rwanda, there were an estimated 1,074,017 genocide victims.

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