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Rwanda buries remains of nearly 85,000 genocide victims

Jenipher Camino Gonzalez
May 5, 2019

The victims were found in mass graves underneath residential homes in the outskirts of the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Family members were able to identify their loved ones by their teeth, clothing and other remains.

The victim's remains were placed in 81 coffins
The victim's remains were placed in 81 coffinsImage: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Chiba

In a ceremony in 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, who were massacred over 100 days by Hutu extremists and militia forces bent on eradicating them.

"Commemorating the genocide against the Tutsi is every Rwandan's responsibility — and so is giving them a decent burial," Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said at the mass burial ceremony.

Read more: Rwanda's genocide: The youth speak out

Remains found under homes

The remains were discovered beneath homes on the western outskirts of the Rwandan capital in 2018. Some 143 pits were found, which contained thousands of bone and clothing fragments.

According to the Rwandan newspaper The New Times, most of the victims were likely killed at roadblocks along a main road nearby, staffed with Hutu militia, who were deliberately intercepting Tutsis fleeing the capital.

Read more: Opinion: Deadly effects of Rwandan genocide still felt today

Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, who heads Ibuka, the umbrella organization of genocide survivors, said an area landlord revealed the location of the graves after he was threatened with arrest.

In Rwanda, concealing information about the location of the remains of genocide victims is a considered a criminal offense.

The remains of almost 85,000 victims were placed in 81 coffins
The remains of almost 85,000 victims were placed in 81 coffinsImage: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Chiba

The initial tip-off led to the discovery of more pits when a man, who in 1994 was tasked with discarding victim's corpses, came forward with more information.

"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," Egide Nkuranga, vice president of Ibuka, told The New Times.

Read more: Rwanda's genocide widows: 'I never thought of replacing my husband'

Nkuranga said that many homeowners were aware of the mass graves but did not inform authorities and that in some cases, the remains were retrieved from within foundations of homes constructed after the genocide.


Unfortunately, many of the victims could not be identified, due to deliberate actions taken by the genocide's perpetrators, such as pouring acid over the bodies or crushing the bones into ash with salt blocks, Nkuranga told The New Times.

Nonetheless, many family members were able to identify their loved ones by their teeth, clothing and other markings, in what was a painstaking forensic process.

Mourners cried as some 81 white coffins containing the remains of the nearly 85,000 victims were finally laid to rest and survivors shared their pain of losing their loved in such a brutal way.

Family members took part in the ceremony at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial
Family members took part in the ceremony at the Nyanza Genocide MemorialImage: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Chiba

Emanuel Nduwayezu told AFP that the discovery meant he finally had a place to lay a wreath for his family every April 7, the anniversary of the genocide.     

"Right now I am very happy because I have buried my dad, my sister and her children, and my in-law. Twenty-five years have passed and I had not known where they were," Nduwayezu said.

Read more: Rwanda genocide trial: Can German courts prosecute?

Clementine Ingabire, the sole survivor from her extended family of 23, found seven members of her family in the pits.

At the memorial, Ingabire was glad they could have a dignified burial, even as their remains were scattered among the many coffins.

"I was saved by a Hutu woman who was a good friend to my mother. She saw me running and grabbed me... that's how I survived," the 32-year-old told AFP.

The bloodshed that began in April came to an end in July 4 of 1994, when a group of mainly Tutsi rebels, led by Rwanda's current president, Paul Kagame, entered Kigali and chased the killers out of the country.

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