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Faces of Genocide

Ric Francis | Rwanda

Gasabo Prison - Emmanuel Nshogozabahizi, 50, discusses the atrocities he committed during the 1994 genocide: "There are three people whose killings I admit to having been involved in. I put them into a white pickup vehicle and we took them to the 'Red District' and I shot them myself. When I think about that I think that, I was not human." He is serving a 30-year sentence.

Imprisoned Rwandans discuss the acts of genocide they committed against Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

This story provided a unique opportunity to hear testimonials from a few of the men and women who participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The violent acts they committed are difficult to imagine. Today ethnic identification such as Tutsi and Hutu have been banned by the government.

The history of conflict between Tutsis and Hutus pre-dates 1994 when hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were killed between April and July, by Rwanda Hutu génocidaires (as people who killed during the genocide were known) who were armed with machetes, spears, farm tools and blunt objects such as clubs. As a lead up to 1994 many Tutsis had fled Rwanda (beginning in the early 1960s) because of ethnic conflict. For an on-going period of time before this Tutsis made up an elite minority caste in Rwanda. In a system made worse under Belgian colonialism Hutu peasants were abused by Tutsis as laborers.

Shortly before independence in 1962 Hutu anger erupted against the Tutsi minority forcing hundreds of thousands of them to flee to neighboring countries. In Uganda Tutsi refugees eventually found a supporter in Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni during the 1980s. In the years leading up to the genocide a rebel army of Rwandan Tutsi exiles, known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF - the ruling political party today), invaded Rwanda and set up camps in the northern mountains; they were trained and armed by Museveni’s Uganda. In Rwanda a climate of fear existed because of the threat of an onslaught by the armed Tutsi refugees. While the RPF’s professed aim was refugee rights, Rwanda’s president Juvénal Habyarimana feared an invasion and overthrow.

In late 1990 the RPF did invade from bases on Ugandan territory and with it ethnic nastiness reared its ugly head as president Habyarimana raised fears of the “demon Tutsis.” Under Habyarimana's leadership Rwanda suffered major socioeconomic injustices and the invasion was a political opportunity to distract the public. Consequently all Tutsis became targets of a hateful propaganda campaign that would bear fruit in April 1994.

By the beginning of 1994 the situation between the Tutsi-led RPF – under todays President Paul Kagame – and the Hutu-led Rwandan government was tense. The tension exploded on 6 April 1994 when rockets shot down Habyarimana’s plane in Rwanda. Hutu militias, with government encouragement, began attacking Tutsi civilians with a vengeance, as the militarily superior RPF advanced into the country and eventually took control - ending the genocide. 

It is important to note that this story does not broadly discuss the history of Rwanda as it relates to the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis - much has been left unsaid. Before documenting the imprisoned Rwandans I spent months photographing genocide memorials to report on their historical significance. However, I abandoned that story because I could not objectively ask questions - about the actions of all who were involved in the conflict - without arousing the anger of the government and risk being labeled an "enemy of Rwanda" or "genocide denier." 

These testimonials touch upon some of the events that occurred during the 1994 genocide.

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