9. GENOCIDAL SAINT FAMILLE
On Wednesday, the day after the July 4th Liberation Day celebrations, we caught a taxi outside the hotel and asked the driver to take us downtown and to Saint Famille, the church where thousands of Tutsi had run for safety after the start of the Genocide, only to be handed over to the genocidal Interahamwe ("those who attack together") by the priest who was in charge there.
The breathtaking view in the top photo below is what a person sees as they come down the hill from the main commercial area in Kigali. That's the Saint Famille Church on the right.
We would have gone inside but the huge doors were locked tight. There was hardly anyone around. As we stood in the courtyard in front of the church I told my husband a story I'd read about how the United Nations came one day to evacuate a refugee exchange between the Hutu Government and the Rwandese Patriotic Front. They would only take people whose names were on their list and desperate people were begging to not be left behind, as the Interahamwe came regularly to take them away for massacre. A five-year-old boy broke through the barricades and made a run for the UN truck as it was pulling out, jumping on the back and getting away. The crowd left behind all cheered.
I recalled as well the story of how the Rwandese Patriotic Front had made a daring raid, in the middle of the night, into what at that time was enemy territory, and rescued 600 Tutsi refugees from Saint Famille, similiar to how they had rescued hundreds one time at the Amahoro Stadium.
I also recalled the story of how General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of UN unpeacekeeping in Rwanda, had held several meetings with the leaders of the Interahamwe, the gangs of murdering youths who manned all the road blocks and slaughtered those with Tutsi identity cards. He'd forced himself to be polite and shake their hands (thus the title of his book, SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL). On the day of his first Interahamwe meeting - which was May 1st - after getting back to UN headquarters at the Amahoro Stadium, he heard on the radio that some mortar rounds had hit the Saint Famille church. At this time the Hutu Rwandan Government Forces (RGF) and the Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) were fighting for control of Kigali and people and buildings sometimes got caught in the crossfire. When he got to Saint Famille there was chaos, with people terrified and lying bloody all over the courtyard. The refugees, seeing him and his men in their blue berets and uniforms, asked why they never did anything to stop the Interahamwe who were coming to the church all the time to haul them away for slaughter. Dallaire said he explained that his soldiers were there to be "peaceful" not to "fight" but the people could never understand that concept.
The following excerpt from an African Rights, April 1999 article FATHER WENCESLAS MUNYESHYAKA: In the Eyes of the Survivors of Sainte Famille contains testimonies of witnesses who want the priest of Saint Famille prosecuted for complicity in genocide: [Beneath this article is a January 2006 update on the extradition proceedings against Munyeshyaka by the Rwandan government.]
"...Saint Famille is positioned on a hill overlooking the city of Kigali, and very close to its commercial centre in Ruhenge. It is one of the largest churches in the city, set in extensive grounds and surrounded by a high wall. It must have seemed like the ideal sanctuary to people whose lives were at risk. And indeed when the violence broke out on 7 April, following the death of President Juvénal Habyarimana, some residents of troubled districts of Kigali fled to the church immediately.
Many of the early arrivals were Hutus - our witnesses include members of the political opposition who knew instantly what the death of Habyarimana would mean for their security, and one member of a large group of over 400 Hutus who were forced out of their homes in Gisozi, Greater Kigali. But Tutsis also came in droves, and they came from all the surrounding areas.
There was only one entrance to the church and this was closely guarded. As the weeks passed and the church became more crowded, many refugees were turned away. Of the Tutsis who did gain entrance, most had to pay a bribe at the gate.
Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka took charge of the Parish of St. Famille early on in April, after the parish priest, Father Anaclet Mwumvaneza, was forced into hiding by threats from militiamen. The survivors of St Famille all expressed their shock at the appearance and attitude of Father Munyeshyaka. They gave numerous examples of his hostility towards them and towards Tutsis in general. Clad in a flak jacket, and armed with a pistol, Munyeshyaka was an intimidating figure who, from the beginning, did nothing to make the refugees feel welcome. It was not long before the refugees discovered where Father Munyeshyaka's sympathies lay. Jean-Claude Rwabakika, a 35-year-old data processor, fled to the church on 20 April after militiamen attacked his home and killed his parents. Jean-Claude said that Fr. Munyeshyaka divided the refugees according to ethnicity and discriminated against the Tutsis.
Wenceslas Munyeshyaka treated the Tutsi refugees as traitors to the nation of Rwanda. He said that we were in permanent contact with the Rwandese Patriotic Front via radios which he claimed we had, which of course we didn't have. By contrast, Munyeshyaka showed himself to be very welcoming towards the refugees who came from Gisozi, fleeing the battles between the RPF and the FAR. He gave them blankets and food; they could go and walk around town whenever they wanted to. In the evening, they used to come back, accompanied by the interahamwe, who would walk around amongst the refugees. Munyeshyaka didn't even ask them to leave their arms outside the church.
The militia were often to be seen wandering around the parish and civilian local officials attended mass there, as well as holding regular meetings with Fr. Munyeshyaka. Most notorious among them were the préfet, Tharcisse Renzaho, the councillor, Odette Nyirabagenzi and the schools inspector, Angéline Mukandutiye, who have been implicated both in the killings at Ste. Famille and in many other massacres in Kigali. According to Munyeshyaka, the militia tried to kill him on three occasions during the genocide and later in the camps in Goma. He has argued that: "It was necessary to appear pro-militia. If I had another attitude, we would have all disappeared." However, the regular meetings between Munyeshyaka, the préfet Tharcisse Renzaho and other génocidaires who came to supervise the abduction and execution of the refugees, along with the priest's often-declared dislike of the Tutsi refugees, constitute loud declarations of support for the militia, not the "silence" which the priest claimed he maintained.
Paulin Munyemana said that, even before the genocide, Munyeshyaka had been openly in favour of the extremist party, the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), whose agenda relied explicitly upon ethnic segregation and discrimination. Paulin was a sector leader of the opposition party of the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR). He had been in hiding at the hostel of the Sisters of Bizeramariya, near St. Famille for almost a year after his life was threatened in his home sector in Murambi, Byumba. As a Hutu opposed to the political aims of CDR, he knew he would be a target when the propaganda of hatred was unleashed following the murder of President Juvénal Habyarimana and so he immediately sought refuge at St. Famille.
Paulin took charge of the administration of the ever-increasing community of refugees there, organising teams of refugees to work for security, food and health, but he received no support for his efforts from Father Munyeshyaka. Such was the shortage of food and water that refugees began dying from "bad living conditions", Paulin said: "I often went and asked Munyeshyaka to help me find a way to bury the bodies, but he told me to wait." But Paulin, like almost every other survivor interviewed, claimed that Munyeshyaka was hoarding supplies in the parish store, which was "bursting with food." They believe he deliberately withheld these supplies from Tutsi refugees. Several of them recounted an incident where one desperate man tried to climb up to get water from the reservoir tank but was forced at gunpoint to come down by Fr. Munyeshyaka. Jérôme Berete, one of a number of Hutus who had refused to conform to the ethnic segregation enforced by Munyeshyaka, said he was also threatened by Fr. Munyeshyaka because he had taken water: "He brought out a gun and nearly shot me. I begged for mercy and luckily he let me go." Meanwhile, refugees remember often seeing Father Munyeshyaka sharing beer and goats’ meat with the militia.
The Massacre of 15 April
According to the survivors, Munyeshyaka was aware of the militia's plans to attack the church and was present during several massacres. The first massacre at St. Famille took place on 15 April, claiming the lives of more than 100 Tutsi men and boys. The victims' names were called from a list, and those inside the church heard the gunshots as they were killed outside. Fr. Munyeshyaka witnessed the abductions, but although he had a phone, refugees say he made no effort to call for help. Gorette Uwimana overheard militiamen telling Fr. Wenceslas that they would return to kill the women and she will never forget his reply:
Wenceslas told them that the women were not a problem as they did not have an ethnicity. He said the bad ones were the men.
The Massacre of 22 April at the Missionary Centre of CELA
A few days later, on 22 April, refugees flooded into the Parish of St. Famille following a massacre at the missionary Centre for the Teaching of African Languages (CELA), which was nearby. The majority of the new arrivals were women; most of their husbands, brothers and sons had been killed that day at CELA under the supervision of the préfet, Tharcisse Renzaho. Munyeshyaka is said to have watched from outside the fence. These refugees were wary of the priest; they came because they had nowhere else to go. Among them was Joseph Bitega who was already conscious of the priest's inhumane attitude towards the refugees.
Joseph had gone to CELA early in April, and when the White Fathers, who ran the centre, were evacuated on 12 April, they left the keys to their house with him, so that the refugees would have access to the telephone. Fr. Wenceslas had visited CELA soon after the departure of the White Fathers on the night of 12 April; he asked for the keys, but was refused entry by refugees patrolling the centre. The following day he returned and asked to see Joseph Bitega, who immediately hid. Complaining that he was now in charge of CELA, he left reluctantly, only to return two days later saying that he had received permission to enter CELA from one of the White Fathers. Joseph opened up the rooms where the White Fathers had been staying and Fr. Munyeshyaka began to search them. Munyeshyaka identified the valuable items and told Joseph that they now belonged to him and should not be touched.
On the morning of 22 April, Father Munyeshyaka arrived with Tharcisse Renzaho, Odette Nyirabagenzi, Angéline Mukandutiye, interahamwe militiamen and soldiers. The boys and men were rounded up and taken away in vans and minibuses to be killed.
Before they took Joseph away, Father Munyeshyaka came to him and asked for the keys to CELA. Joseph said:
What really shocked me was that instead of trying to find a way of saving us, Father Munyeshyaka asked me for the keys to CELA. I gave them to him and then we were taken to the police detention centre in Muhima. A few minutes later, we were taken to Rugenge sector to be killed.
Joseph watched as the men were taken one at a time and shot. He ran and managed to escape.
The survivors of the attack on 22 April claim that not only did Father Munyeshyaka make no attempt to prevent the abductions, he showed himself to be in support of the killer’s actions. André Karangwa recalled his words after the raid: "Munyeshyaka came here and said: 'You innocent ones who are still here, come and take refuge at St. Famille.' He thought those who had just been killed were guilty."
The Massacre of 17 June
An RPF raid on the church of St. Paul, also in Kigali, on 16 June succeeded in evacuating the refugees there, enraging the killers. Early the following morning, Father Munyeshyaka told the refugees that the RPF had killed all the Hutus at St. Paul, which was untrue, but was an inflammatory comment, guaranteed to exacerbate tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi refugees at St. Famille. He warned them that they should expect reprisals.
Soon afterwards, Colonel Munyakazi, head of the gendarmarie in Muhima, came to meet with Father Munyeshyaka. Then around 10:00 a.m., the interahamwe arrived. This was the worst day in the lives of most of the refugees at Ste. Famille. Between 70-100 Tutsi men and boys were slaughtered along with two women. Their bodies were left strewn all over the church courtyard. Although Father Munyeshyaka disappeared during the massacre, he came back at midday, when it had ended. According to Emile Rukundo, the priest showed no signs of sorrow or remorse. He simply said that: "all these Tutsis had 'killed themselves'."
Enock Kayonga said that the next day he counted 54 bodies lying in their own blood in the yard of St. Famille. Then, in preparation for the arrival of western journalists and troops of the United Nations Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) who were due to evacuate the refugees, Munyeshyaka ordered the refugees to hide the corpses in the garage of the general store. He promised some of them that they would be evacuated in return, Enock said: "That evening, Munyeshyaka told us to remove all the bodies. I removed two of the victims' bodies... Munyeshyaka promised to let us be evacuated on the condition that we remove all the bodies." On 19 June some of the leading génocidaires of the area, including the préfet and Colonel Munyakazi, returned to the parish to search for surviving males. Donata Mukasekuru believes that Munyeshyaka collaborated closely with them.
On 19 June, Munyeshyaka refused to celebrate mass, and instead paraded around with the killers: Angéline Mukandutiye, Colonel Munyakazi, who commanded the Muhima brigade, and others. They picked out seventeen boys, whom Angéline accused of shooting at her during the night; she had them searched. Then Colonel Munyakazi led them away and put them in his van. They never returned.
All these men were later killed. Not once did Father Munyeshyaka plead with the killers to stop, nor did he utter a word of condemnation of the militia or comfort to the terrified refugees, not even privately.
The selection of refugees to be evacuated was naturally a source of considerable anxiety and tension. However, Father Munyeshyaka's handling of the evacuations showed that he was prepared to use any avenue to manipulate the fate of the refugees. UNAMIR requested that the names of the refugees be listed alongside their chosen destination, in accordance with an agreement between the interim government, the RPF and UNAMIR. By June, the RPF controlled territory in the south and east of the country and most of the Tutsi refugees at St. Famille chose to be evacuated to the RPF zone, rather than those areas which remained under government rule. The refugees wrote their names down on pieces of paper which were used to compile a list. The priest was given a copy of the list and refugees say that he then gave a copy to the militia — many refugees believe it helped them target their victims.
The first UNAMIR convoy left in early June and, despite threats to the refugees in the vans heading for the RPF zone, the first evacuation was successful. In fact, when the radio reported news of the escape, many more refugees came to St. Famille. However, on the second attempt the interahamwe surrounded the vans, and Father Munyeshyaka publicly identified those who had chosen the RPF zone as "Inyenzi" ["cockroach", a term of abuse for the RPF]. Michèle Gasibirege was evacuated, but she was very upset at having to leave without her brother or mother. She accused Father Munyeshyaka of having done:
... everything within his power to stop the evacuation... Though the men were the most at risk, he rejected their pleas, and even removed their names from the evacuation lists. He used to say that they would swell the ranks of the Inyenzi. He privileged only the women and girls.
Fr. Munyeshyaka could and did save lives — principally the lives of a select number of women and young girls. According to the refugees, these women were given special treatment: food, water and accommodation which he withheld from the rest. They were evacuated by Munyeshyaka to the Mille Collines Hotel and given priority on the UNAMIR evacuation lists. There was a price for these privileges, and the refugees have accused Father Munyeshyaka of demanding sexual favours. Most of the refugees were shocked by the open favouritism displayed by the priest, as Antoine Nkusi explained:
Munyeshyaka had put several beautiful women in the three rooms next door to his. Whenever we saw them coming and going at night around Munyeshyaka's home we could guess why they were there. When Munyeshyaka realised that a lot of the refugees noticed the girls who went up the stairs of his house to his room on the first floor, he moved into more basic quarters on the ground floor, and even reserved a room at the Mille Collines Hotel.
Valentine Gahonzire managed to escape with her brother to the Mille Collines Hotel at the end of May. She saw the priest at the hotel on many occasions, she said: "He had a room reserved there, and would go in with his girls, then return to St. Famille."
Rose Rwanga feels that Father Munyeshyaka was to blame for the death of her daughter, sixteen-year-old Hyacinthe, who was one of only two women killed at the parish. Before Hyacinthe was murdered on the 17 June, she had pleaded with Father Munyeshyaka to protect her; he would not agree to do so. Rose believes it was because her daughter had refused to sleep with him.
Fr. Wenceslas had the opportunity to chat up attractive Tutsi girls. Those that satisfied his needs were evacuated to the Mille Collines Hotel. Those who refused his propositions were not. These propositions were of course to sleep with him. My daughter had resisted his propositions. She had refused to become his friend. But of course Wenceslas had hidden girls who had responded positively to his requests.
A Plea for Action
We believe the testimonies of survivors show that there is sufficient evidence against the priest to warrant careful examination by both criminal and ecclesiastical authorities.
The question of why, so many years on, Father Munyeshyaka remains at the heart of the Catholic Church - which evacuated him to France and is paying for his defence lawyers - is a source of much anger and pain among survivors. They have experienced further frustrations at the repeated delays in the legal case in France, a country which itself has an historical responsibility, not yet fully exposed, for arming and training the forces behind the 1994 genocide.
In February 1996, three survivors of Ste. Famille travelled to France to testify in a court of law against Munyeshyaka. But justice has eluded them. Josepha Umwangavu is one of the survivors who made the journey to France. She spoke of their efforts and of the disappointment she has felt since.
I was very pleased to go to France because I thought that the French courts would take up the Munyeshyaka case. I couldn't understand how he could continue to celebrate mass in France when he had participated in the genocide in Rwanda. I left France thinking that Munyeshyaka would be arrested immediately. But to this day, he continues to celebrate mass.
I greatly regret having wasted my time in going to France to testify against Munyeshyaka. It seems that the French court has taken no notice of what we said. If the judges didn't think that our accounts were evidence enough, why haven't they come to Rwanda to carry out their inquiries? What more do they need? Why hasn't the Catholic Church done anything to follow up the Munyeshyaka case? For this reason, I can't go back to Church to pray. I daren't go back to St. Famille church. As soon as I see it, I remember all the Tutsis who died there in the presence of Munyeshyaka, who is now being protected by the Catholic Church.
African Rights hopes that the French judicial system will employ all the means at its disposal to establish the strength of the evidence against Munyeshyaka. Most importantly, it should endeavour to go to Kigali to meet with survivors of the massacres at the Parish of Ste Famille. Only then will Munyeshyaka's accusers be convinced that the case has been properly investigated.
The survivors of St. Famille have spoken of the most traumatic events of their lives; it is vital that their testimonies are met with an appropriate response. Fr. Célestin Hakizimana was in charge of the nearby church of St. Paul and did his best to protect, feed and comfort the refugees at St. Famille. When he visited them during the genocide he was unable to offer them an explanation for Father Munyeshyaka's behaviour.
I never saw Father Munyeshyaka kill anyone but I can say that he didn't behave like a priest during the genocide. The interahamwe regarded Munyeshyaka as a brother.
The refugees at St. Famille suffered greatly. The militiamen went there whenever they wanted and separated people, taking those to be killed. Many of the interahamwe militiamen treated it as their home and Father Munyeshyaka, who was responsible for these refugees, made no attempt to stop them.
His language frightened the refugees during the genocide. They had come to him for protection. But when he spoke to them he said: "You, Inyenzi, what have you run away from?" When a person was called an Inyenzi during the genocide it was done to denounce them. I often heard him saying this. It showed that Munyeshyaka didn't like the refugees.
Munyeshyaka liked to work closely with senior officials, even ministers. He continued his contacts with officials during the genocide. During this time it was the military officials who came to see him at St. Famille. Each evening, Munyeshyaka would cook meat, and he would get beer, or more often wine, to entertain the soldiers at the end of their working day. I saw soldiers relax at his home every evening. When they had finished eating, they certainly wandered around amongst the refugees.
Whilst he was preparing good meals which were given to the soldiers with a warm welcome, just next to him, there were people, and especially children, who were dying of hunger and didn't even have water to drink. When I visited the refugees, they used to ask me why Munyeshyaka didn't do anything to save them even though he was friends with the killers. When they asked me this I didn't know what to reply.
I hope that Fr. Munyeshyaka will be brought to justice.
But alongside the testimonies describing the callous attitude displayed by Father Munyeshyaka at St. Famille, stands the evidence of his political allegiances, spelled out in a letter to the Pope, dated 2 August, to which Munyeshyaka was a joint signatory with 28 other priests.
Everybody knows, except those who do not wish to know or understand it, that the massacres which took place in Rwanda are the result of the provocation and of the harassment of the Rwandese people by the RPF. To speak of genocide and to insinuate that only Hutus killed Tutsis, is to be ignorant [of the fact] that Hutus and Tutsis have been each other's executioners. We dare even to confirm that the number of Hutu civilians killed by the army of the RPF exceeds by far the Tutsi victims of the ethnic troubles...
Evidently Munyeshyaka's experiences of the work of the militia at St. Famille had limited impact.
The genocide was the crisis which exposed the depth of the involvement of the leaders of the Catholic Church in the history of ethnic politics in Rwanda and the resulting divisions among its members. For almost a century, bishops, priests and nuns, both Rwandese and foreign, had been openly involved in the country's politics and practised routine ethnic discrimination. The close ties between the Church and State inevitably compromised the Church's ability to take a stand against the killings as an institution. Without the guidance of their leaders, members of the clergy acted upon their own personal convictions and loyalties. Many Church leaders went into exile in July 1994, as the genocide was brought to an end. Father Munyeshyaka's reluctance to acknowledge the nature or extent of the 1994 genocide was certainly shared by many other members of the Rwandese Catholic Church. But there were others who suffered at the hands of the interahamwe militia and others still who were killed for their courage or their ethnicity. Many clerics used their position to save lives with individual acts of heroism that will never be forgotten by survivors. Instead, Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka is remembered by Jean-Bosco Muganza and many other survivors of St. Famille as the priest who: 'directed the militiamen; demoralised the refugees; and sowed hatred between the Hutu and Tutsi refugees'." [end of quoting from African Rights, April 6, 1999]
go next to SOCCER BALL GIVE-AWAY #2 or back to index at DESTINY DESTINATION RWANDA
Genocide fugitive sighted in USA (spearheaded Sainte Famille killings). NewTimes, May 4, 2008
Rwandans accused of genocide released (priest of Kigali church). France24, Sep 19, 2007
KIGALI CHURCH & MEMORIAL (visit in July 2007)
Rwanda asks for St Famille priest to be handed over. Rwanda Gateway, January 7, 2006
The Rwandan government has formally requested France to arrest and hand over a senior Rwandan Catholic priest, Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka. If apprehended and extradited to Kigali, Father Munyeshyaka will stand trial on charges of Genocide, conspiracy to commit Genocide, incitement of the public to commit Genocide, war crimes, rape and other crimes against humanity in 1994. Father Munyeshyaka is also charged with illegal possession of military equipment, including military fatigue and weapons. The extradition request along with the International Warrant of Arrest for Father Munyeshyaka were issued and transmitted to the French government on December 27, 2005.
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