During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, a million people were brutally murdered. Many were thrown in lakes and rivers and left to float over the rivers of the neighbouring countries.
Below is the testimony of one of the people who witnessed the sight of the bodies that were thrown in Lake Akagera and together with his team, they vowed to look after the genocide memorials in Uganda and give appropriate respect for bodies of the victims.
He also tells us why remembering and giving victims the respect they deserve is important and how his team succeeded to convince Rwanda not to exhume the bodies from Uganda and rebury them. They suggested that they were resting peacefully where they were buried:
“We have come to attend to this 24th commemoration for the remembrance of our brothers and sisters who were killed the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. I have come with my two colleagues and we have been part of our team right from the first day.
I have greetings from the rest of my colleagues in Uganda who also stood with us from the beginning up to now to look after the memorial sites in Uganda.
I would also like to extend my appreciation to the rest of the distinguished guests who have attended this occasion and the same time the committee for reserving some time for me to say a few words.
I remember when the first bodies of all the victims who were washed into Lake Akagera started floating. The rest of the victims floated forwards and landed in other different other locations of Lake Victoria in Uganda, culminating into 6 different sites namely; Ggolo, Lambu, Namilembe, Kasensero, Bimu and Malembo.
The government of Rwanda had decided to exhume the bodies of the genocide victims buried in Uganda and bring them back to Rwanda.
However, when they approached us, we were looking after the sites, it was the decision. We put up an argument explaining that they should not tamper with them, since they were resting peacefully where they were buried.
Their concern was how to look after the six sites from Rwanda while at the same time maintaining them with the respect they deserve.
After listening to our views, and putting into consideration the merits and demerits of the exercise, the government of Rwanda made a decision that the bodies would not be taken back to Rwanda.
We are so proud that after the government of Rwanda made the decision to reduce the memorial size from 6 to 3, we were given the task to exhume and reburying the bodies to other sites in order to give them befitting burial.
The experience in a corner of fulfilling this exercise was not a cheer mate which was always meant for a neighbour.
The feeling and the experience encountered was something unique in the same time. We never encountered any difficulties of any effect. It was the rain season and it has been raining from morning. So, we thought we would not be able to carry out this exercise until the next day.
However, when I asked my colleague Daniel Mutembe and other members of our team whether we could manage, they all responded in unison that we should continue.
We reached Lambu from Namilembe that was the first exhumation when we removed the first bodies and brought them to Lambu. We reached at 5 o’clock without any incidence. We all put on our coats in order to lay the remains with dignity and in a prepared place, individually.
A number of victims buried, originally in Guro, we had buried 955 and exhumed between 2149. In Malembo between 1667 totalling to 4771. In Lambu, 1718, and what we exhumed from Namilembe 1618 totalling to 2226. Kasensero, 2827 totalling to 1924 bodies which are buried in Uganda.
From that time up to now, we have been fully involved in maintaining and looking after the sites and fully participating in the memorial occasions every year together with the Embassy of Rwanda in Uganda.
Allow me to take this opportunity to give one example which will hopefully open all our eyes and see how the dead should be given a befitting burial.
In 1941 Germany under Adolph Hitler, decided to attack Russia with the aim of reaching Saint Petersburg in Russia which was only very cold. They surrounded and bombarded the city to the maximum but the Russian army resisted to the extent that Hitler could manage capture Raining garden. 19000 soldiers died during that siege.
Eventually, in 1945, Germany was overpowered by armies of Russia and United States, Britain and France. After this war, Russia immediately embarked on reconstruction of the destruction caused by the war and took the overlooked responsibility of burying the dead soldiers.
During the development phrase, a person found a helmet of a soldier in a pudding from the ground. The person also discovered bones belonging to a human being. It was concluded that the helmet and the bones must have been belonged to a soldier who died in the war.
Another lady found a helmet near a tree in her compound. When she removed the helmet, she found out that it was a soldier’s helmet with a name inscribed on it.
She called for help and at that time, they found other bones belonging to two human beings under the tree. In 1993, a group called liguas was founded regarding this incident and called individuals to look for the bodies of the soldiers who died during the siege.
The group is now digging everywhere possible to recover the bodies of 42 unidentified people. This is by names and other possible identifications so that they give them a decent burial.
In the exercise, another amazing experience came to light: as one man was sitting outside the campfire, he started hearing voices and something like a ghost with a very clear voice talking to him.
Immediately, he realised that these could be some of the dead bodies that must not have been buried after the siege. To continue his incident, he said that somebody touched him on his injured hand which was caused by an accident.
He immediately felt heavy pain and something was telling him what he could not understand. He instantly realised that there could be other remains under his house because he always heard voices talking to him at night. 1608 bodies have been recently buried with full military honour by the Government of USSR.
After carefully identifying the names of the deceased, and any evidences they managed to get including scratched helmets. When one lady heard about the buried victims, she was shocked to learn that one of the names belonged to her own grandmother. So far, 5000 soldiers all over Russia have been reburied.
Lastly, the final task that we are trying to fulfil to build a befitting memorial building in Uganda in order to create a rhetorium and prayer house with a few rooms where people can come, stay and recall how at this memorial site. May the grace of Almighty God.
I would like to take this opportunity first and foremost to thank Mr. Daniel Mutezintare the former High Commissioner of Uganda to Rwanda for working together with us all along the way in order to exhume and rebury the bodies.
Finally, before I regain my seat, I would like to ask all of us to stand up for a one minute of silence for all of our brothers and sisters who died in the 1994 genocide.”