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Eyewitness Testimony


Norah Bagarinka, Survivor

Norah Bagarinka, a Tutsi, was targeted during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She survived, as many Tutsi did, by running and hiding for more than 100 days.


When we reached the roadblock, I found that the guy who was my gardener was the head in the roadblock and what they're telling that, “Tutsi here, Hutu here. If you know you are Tutsi, this side. If you know you are Hutu, this side.”

But then I started to ask myself, "What do I count myself? Do I go to my husband's side since I'm married to a Hutu? Maybe I had the right to stay on his side." But then immediately someone, one of the local people on the roadblock, came and pulled me, said, "Hey! You don't belong to that side if you're married to him — just here." So I was pulled to that side and they started up with a machete coming towards me. What I did, I raised up my hand and I said "Please, please don't kill me."

As I was putting my hands up, my gardener came, I can't remember whether this was a slasher or — it was something sharp because it cut my hand. And I fell down, and blood started shooting up, so my mother was trying to pull me up. They said — they hit her hard, she fell down, also, and the gardener came and said, "Okay, please," he pulled me up, said, "Leave her alone. I'm the one going to kill her because she was — I was digging for her and she was a very bad boss to me. She never paid me well. She never gave me food." In my mind, I thought I was going to be killed by him. He took us, like, my mother and other three ladies and took us aside on the other bush.

When we reached there, he got some leaves and bandaged my hand, and he told us, "Run! Run for your safety." And he apologized. He said, "Please, forgive me. This was the only way I could spare your lives.”

Jean-Philippe Ceppi, Journalist

In 1994, Jean-Philippe Ceppi was an independent journalist based in Kenya.


We went with a sister, a Catholic sister, we went to a sort of convent in central Kigali and we saw about—probably a hundred of terrified people. And it was under the basement, I think, of a building, and she told us, “Look, these people have been chased away, and they’re terrified and we are trying to hide them, and most of them are Tutsis, and we don’t know... we pray God.” And just as we went out of that place, we heard a group shouting. And there was a young guy, running, panicked, terrified, with three or four guys behind him, chasing him with weapon, with machete. And that guy came and the sister stopped these four guys. She calmed them down. And she touched one of them, on the head here. She said, “My son, it’s going to be okay. Just leave that guy now.” And they went. I’ll never know what happened to that guy. He managed to disappear. But, you know, at that time, it never occurred in my mind if—is that a “genocide” or what? I mean, having seen in a day a pile of four hundred bodies, having seen somebody—bodies lying in the streets being eaten by dogs and having heard the guy from ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] quoting a number of twenty thousand, ten or twenty thousand Tutsis in Kigali, plus an uncertain amount of Tutsis being slaughtered all around the country, for me, was good enough to use this word “genocide.”

Gen. Roméo Dallaire, UN Force, Rwanda

General Roméo Dallaire from Canada was the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda deployed in late 1993 as part of a peace accord between the Rwandan government and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front.


One day, I was coming between the lines and there was a young boy about three years old, on the road, and what the extremists used to do was put children in the middle of the road to stop convoys, and then once the convoy stopped, then they would attack it and kill and steal the stuff.

And so this boy's up ahead and I'm expecting to be in an ambush, and so with a couple of soldiers we stop, jump out, and there's no ambush. And so we go to the huts along the road there and we start looking inside, yelling for people to come and take care of the child.

And in the huts the bodies have been decaying for weeks and half-eaten by rats and dogs. And so we're going through these huts and all of a sudden realize that the child's no more with us.

So we go back and find him in a hut where there are two adults, male, female, and some children who are in advanced decay. And he's sitting there in a corner, as if it's sort of like his home; he's comfortable. And I couldn't figure out how come he had not been killed.

And so I took that child and I brought him to the middle of the road, and I looked at him, and his stomach was bloated and he had scabs and flies and dirt, and rags on.

But then all of a sudden I looked into his eyes, and what I saw in his eyes was exactly what I saw in the eyes of my three-year-old at the time. They're the eyes of a human child. And they were absolutely no different, one from the other. They were both human children. And so are all humans human, or are some more human than others

Alison Des Forges, Human Rights Advocate

US based-human rights activist Alison Des Forges had worked on Rwanda for years before the genocide began. When violence started in April 1994, she focused all her energy on publicizing the genocide and trying to provoke strong international response.


The president’s plane, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in the early evening, around eight thirty, I believe, on April the 6th. At that time, it was early afternoon in Buffalo, New York, where I was at that time. Approximately, well, within the half hour of the shooting down of the airplane, Monique Mujawamariyaw telephoned me and said, “The President’s plane has been shot down. It’s over. It’s finished.” Meaning, there will be no saving us now. The violence is inescapable. I called her every half hour from that point on until some time, perhaps, twelve hours later.

With each phone conversation she obviously became more and more worried because she could see that the violence was approaching her side of the valley.

She was Hutu, but she was of mixed parentage, legally Hutu but her mother was Tutsi, and she had been a very obvious and open critic of the abuses of the government. That meant that she would almost certainly be someone on the list to be eliminated.

In one of these conversations she said, “They’re next door. I can see that they have taken the people from the house next door outside, and they’re shooting them.”

As we talked I could hear noises of gunfire, and then she said, “They’re at the door now.”

So I said, “Monique, stay on the phone. When they come in, give them the telephone, and perhaps that way, we can persuade them to leave you alone.” She said, “No, it won’t work.” And then she said, “Take care of my children.” And she hung up.

You can see for me it’s still a very emotional moment to remember that. And she fled out the backdoor of the house and I thought she had been killed.

Mary "Fifi" Mukangoga, Victim

Fifi was 16 years old when the Rwandan genocide began in 1994. As violence escalated in Butare, her hometown, she sought protection at a local government office with other Tutsi, including Chantal, who would become a close friend.


CHANTAL: I met Fifi in town during the war. We went together to hide at the prefecture office… where we hoped we would be killed by guns… but not by machetes.

They gathered us in a big house and raped us all together. Those who refused were killed. Four different people raped me. By the end I wished for death, but death would not come.

I, myself, saw Fifi raped during the war. That is how she was infected with HIV. It saddens me. We've already lost another close friend. And now Fifi is the last one in our group who is dying.

I'm sorry that she can't hear me very well and that she can't speak. Before she went to the hospital she came to me and asked… "Do you think I'll be alright?" I encouraged her and said… "Let's take you to the hospital and hope you'll be fine." I told her to have courage and that I would be behind her all the time. Those were the last words we ever spoke.

Damas Gisimba, Rescuer

Damas Gisimba was the director of an orphanage, the Gisimba Memorial Center, in Kigali, Rwanda, when the genocide began in April 1994.


We were no longer scared of dying. We lived with death; it surrounded us. Death walked among us. And so I was no longer afraid. I could not be scared in front of the children. I could not panic, because if I panicked, I couldn’t have done anything to help those who had fled to me. I could see the militias coming, and I would signal to the adults to go up into the ceiling and hide. When they arrived, all they could see were the kids in their dorms, and they didn’t see the adults.

It was in the month of June that they killed people at the center. They killed my social worker. They killed other people who were hiding in the ceiling of the kitchen, at least six people. This is when they realized that I was hiding people left and right, and at that moment they organized to attack the center.

Stephen Rapp, International Prosecutor

Stephen Rapp, a victim of a violent crime as a young man, became a prosecutor, first for the US Attorney's Office, and from 2001 to 2006 at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).


I put myself always in the shoes of the victim. I was a victim of a horrible crime when I was young, and went on after that to a career as a defense attorney, and understand that no matter what the crime is, there needs to be a just process. But when I put myself in these situations and I see a Nazi camp guard killing Jewish people in the morning before breakfast, in my mind’s eye. Or I see what happened in the Rwandan genocide, with the slamming of babies against the walls of churches, you know, of families seeing their own children killed in front of their eyes, and other loved ones. And I see the brutality and the animus in the eyes of the people doing those crimes. I say, those people should answer for those crimes.

Through what’s happening in the Yugoslavia tribunal and what we did in the Rwanda tribunal, and now the Sierra Leone and through the continuing work in the future of the International Criminal Court, I think we’re creating a perception in the minds of those people that are doing these things that, “Hey, one of these days they’ll be coming for me.”

Clemantine Wamariya, Survivor

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when the genocide began in Rwanda.


When we went to all these countries, being treated like we were garbage, we were less than humans. It didn’t matter that we were a mix of Hutu and Tutsi and Twa. It didn’t matter that we were tall or short, or beautiful or ugly. It didn’t matter that we were black. It didn’t matter at all. It just matter that inside of us, we’re all trying to survive.

I have survived. And I think that everyone who has survived in anything, they should be able to be the witness to these kinds of crimes, and not let more people die because they just are people. I mean, for God’s sake—Darfur. Those are people being burned alive, those are people who have family, who are educated, who wants to help change the world. The Holocaust happened and we are so ashamed and no one did anything—we are talking about Bosnia. We are talking about Rwanda. Another one? I think maybe we need to change our system, the way we educate people. We need to teach our kids that “You’re not better than that person, you just are the same.” And so that’s why I stand up for any injustice thing, such as hunger, war, or the genocides.

Carl Wilkens, Rescuer

In 1994, Carl Wilkens directed the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda. His family evacuated when the genocide began, but Wilkens chose to stay to deliver aid to children in need despite the on-going violence.


I started to see the militia appearing all around, probably more than fifty of them. They could walk right between the bushes of the enclosure. They could walk in whenever they wanted. And it was after, like I said, two to three hours, that all of a sudden, here comes a little double-cab Toyota pickup with seven gendarmes in the back, in their little red berets. What a welcome sight these guys were. They pulled in the parking lot, the soldiers jump out of the back of the pickup truck, and they look around and size up the situation. The lieutenant who came with them went with me inside the office, and we tried to explain the situation to him. And I said, “Is there any way you can spend the night here because these guys—it appears we have a massacre about to happen.” And he says, “We’re just seven. There’s nothing we could do here.” He says, “The best thing is for you to go and talk to my leader.” Now these guys didn’t travel with any of their own radios or communication equipment. And so you got some hard decisions here to make, because—can you trust this man? Some of the police were involved in the killing. Some were saving and protecting people. What do you do? But it seemed like the only route to do was to trust him. The young brother said, “No. Don’t go. They’re going to kill us as soon as you leave.” And I said to him, you know—I promised him… I promised him, “I’ll come back.” And so it was with this sick mixture of relief and dread that I got in my car and drove away…