Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial is located about 35 kilometers from the southern town of Kibungo in the Kirehe district, of the Eastern province. The former Catholic church, nunnery and its accompanying school and buildings of the Benebikira Sisters are a reminder of the appalling violence that took place at this site during the Genocide against the Tutsi. More than 20,000 people were killed there during the 14th and 15th of April 1994.
On 7th April 1994, people were ordered by a radio announcement to remain in their homes. The following day, Tutsis arrived in Nyarubuye from various places where killings had already started. Most of these people entered Nyarubuye Church; others went to join family friends in the area.
According to testimonies collected since the 1994 genocide, the people of Nyarubuye, Hutus and Tutsis alike, hid and protected many of the Tutsis who had arrived from elsewhere. The local population appeared determined to ensure that killings that they had heard were already underway in Rukira should not take place in Nyarubuye. Gendarmes came to the neighbouring area of Nasho and encouraged Hutus to kill Tutsis, as a result of which some people in Nyarubuye began to collaborate with the Interahamwe and gendarmes and participated in killings.
The militia did not commence attacks for several days, but when they did, the initial focus was on Tutsis’ homes. Some Tutsi were killed whilst others escaped and fled to the Nyarubuye Catholic Church. Others attempted to escape to Tanzania but many were intercepted on the journey around the Rusumo border, and forced by the Interahamwe to return to Nyarubuye. The commune burgomaster, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, organized a group of people to escort all Tutsis to the parish church, claiming that this would guarantee their safety.
By the 12th April, the number of Tutsis at the church had grown considerably, many from the communes of Rukira, Rusumo, Birenga, Kigarama and Rukara. On 13th April, a census was undertaken to count the number of Tutsi at the church and surrounding area; the number of Tutsis estimated in that census was 35,000. During the counting, Tutsis believed the aim was to help the burgomaster in determining how much support would be required; however, the figures were actually used to quantify the number of killers needed.
That evening, gendarmes and militia attacked from various points armed with guns, machetes, swords, grenades, as well as other traditional weapons. Having surrounded the area, they launched an assault on the church, systematically killing Tutsis over several hours; they first led with gendarmes armed with guns and grenades and then followed up with large numbers of Interahamwe killers. The following day, the burgomaster, together with Evariste Rubanguka, a judge at the commune level, ordered capsicum to be sprayed on the piles of bodies in order to ascertain whether some had survived. Evariste himself was seen applying the capsicum spray.
The levels of violence were significantly high in Nyarubuye, even in the context of the overall genocide. In the bathroom belonging to the nuns, girls were raped and pregnant women had their stomachs opened prior to killing them and the fetus then thrown into the toilets. Prior to killing some of the girls and women, they would first penetrate them through the vagina with sharpened pieces of wood. Children were smashed against the kitchen wall killing them instantly.
Other symbolic actions designed to dehumanize those about to die took place. The monument of the Virgin Mary was destroyed because “she looked like a Tutsi.” Symbolically, destroying the monument meant that “God had abandoned the Tutsi.” As the killers beheaded the Tutsis with their machetes, they poured blood into imivure (a traditional receptacle), shouting: “May the blood of Tutsi become the milk they are fond of.”
Only 18 people out of the 35,000 inside the church survived.