Genocide in Rwanda: the memory of the Nyange church massacre still haunts its inhabitants

“His house has hardly changed

Genocide in Rwanda: the memory of the Nyange church massacre still haunts its inhabitants

“His house has hardly changed. He lived right here, a few dozen meters from my house, we knew each other well, ”explains Aloys Rwamasirabo, passing through the half-open blue gate of the house of Fulgence Kayishema, in the village of Nyange, in western Rwanda.

The large residence with light colors and brick foundations, overlooking the hills of the former commune of Kivumu, in the district of Ngororero, is now inhabited by a new family. Of his former neighbour, arrested on Wednesday May 24 in a wine farm in Paarl, South Africa, after more than twenty-two years on the run, Aloys Rwamasirabo, a 67-year-old trader and survivor of the genocide, remembers a proud man, teacher in a village school before being appointed judicial police inspector in 1990.

“He had given himself the image of someone untouchable, but eventually he was found. It won't bring our dead loved ones back to life, but it gives us some relief," he said. In Nyange, the name of Fulgence Kayishema, a native of the commune, is known to everyone. Prosecuted for genocide since 2001 by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), he is accused of having participated in the development of the plan which led to the massacre, on April 15, 1994, of nearly 2,000 Tutsi refugees in the village church.

"It wasn't going fast enough"

"He brought gasoline to set the building on fire, but it wasn't going fast enough, so they looked for a bulldozer to destroy the roof which fell on the refugees, and the few survivors were killed when they tried to get out of the rubble", list Serge Brammertz, prosecutor of the International Mechanism called to exercise the residual functions of the criminal courts (IRMCT), in charge of the last files of the ICTR dissolved in 2015.

“I went to the church on April 13 in the evening, the priests said there was no problem, recalls Aloys Rwamasirabo. But in the morning, they wanted to attack us, and I managed to leave. Two days later, eight members of his family, including five of his children, still trapped inside, lost their lives in this massacre for which three local officials, including the burgomaster of Kivumu, Grégoire Ndahimana, and the priest , Athanase Seromba, have already been sentenced by the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania, to twenty-five years' imprisonment and life imprisonment respectively.

Placed in pre-trial detention in a high security prison in Cape Town after a first hearing on Friday, Fulgence Kayishema, who appeared with a Bible in hand, denied his involvement in the genocide, in response to a question from a journalist when he entered the court.

In Nyange, a memorial was inaugurated in 2018 on the site of the old church. To the right of the gate, stone foundations, a few bricks and rusty scrap metal are stored in a shed. "These are the remains of the building that was destroyed by the bulldozer," said Innocent Kamanzi, vice-president for Ngororero district of Ibuka ("remember" in Kinyarwanda), the association of genocide survivors against Tutsi in 1994 who had killed 800,000 people in the country according to the UN.

Behind the monument of meditation which shelters, in its basement, the bodies of nearly 7,800 people, a brand new brick church stands. “At first it was to be built on the same site as the old one, where we have now established the memorial, but the survivors fought to have it moved. They wanted to keep traces of the massacre, so that it would not be forgotten, ”adds the association manager.

Seventeen members of his family, including his father and siblings, died during the killings. Their photos are placed in front of the panels where the names of all the victims are listed. “We no longer expected Fulgence Kayishema to be arrested, still surprised Innocent Kamanzi. I hope there will finally be justice. »

"Perhaps the Last Fugitive"

The investigation to find the fugitive had become the Mechanism's priority after the arrest in 2020 in the Paris suburbs of Félicien Kabuga, the alleged "financier" of the genocide, and the closure in 2022 of the case of Protais Mpiranya, following DNA tests on a body buried in 2006 which confirmed the death in Zimbabwe of this former head of the presidential guard, accused in particular of having ordered the assassination of the Prime Minister at the time, Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

"Fulgence Kayishema may be the latest fugitive arrested by the Mechanism," notes Serge Brammertz. Of the three we are still looking for, we have reason to believe that at least two are already dead." The defendant's next appearance in court in Cape Town is scheduled for June 2. “The arrest warrant provides that he be transferred to us, in Arusha, before being transferred to Kigali”, notes the United Nations prosecutor.

For Innocent Kamanzi, holding a trial in the capital would be of great importance for the victims. "If I can, I will definitely go to the hearings," he said. "What could I say to him? Asks Aloys Rwamasirabo. Maybe the only thing I can wish for is for him to come back and see what he's done in this church, and what this place has become. »