Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Monday, April 27, 1998 Published at 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK

From butchery to executions in Rwanda

More than 125,000 await trial in Rwanda's overcrowded prisons

Twenty one men and one woman were executed in Rwanda on Friday.

They had been found guilty of involvement in the genocide committed by Hutu extremists over a period of one hundred days in 1994, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered.

The executions of the 22 went ahead despite appeals for clemency, including from the Pope. They were shot by public firing squad, on a hill above the capital Kigali and in four other towns associated with the genocide.

Our Africa correspondent, Jane Standley, who reported from Rwanda in 1994, was in Kigali for the executions

I pondered among other things the concept of curiosity as I walked to the execution ground.

I've walked many times through the same red earth streets of Kigali with the lush banana groves at this time of the morning nodding hallo to the trickle of people making their way up and down to the market, to school, to work. This time though it was one way traffic.

Jane Standley's report in Realaudio (4'18")
Thousands of Rwandans, five, ten abreast across the road walking, running, a buzzing mass of people stretching far into the dusty distance. They were all on their way to the execution ground too.

Comanzi who has just turned 21 had been telling me that curiosity was why he was going.

"I've never seen a firing squad, I'll maybe never have the chance to see one again," he said as if it were the chance to see the pyramids or the Taj Mahal.

"Who would go to a public execution out of curiosity?" I asked myself.

Mostly Hutus died, mostly Tutsis watched

Probably many more people than you would think but this is also Rwanda, a country so brutalised, so traumatised by killing that curiosity here means much more than that.

The people I walked among were curious to witness with their own eyes that the justice they'd been promised for the last four years was now being done. Almost to a man, woman and child those who marched up to the execution ground were Tutsi. Those to face the firing squad were Hutu. Many of the spectators had come to Rwanda after the genocide. Previous ethnic pogroms had driven their families into exile but they are all united by kinship and the knowledge that if they'd been here in 1994 the extremist Hutu militia would have killed them too because they are Tutsi.

Some lost everyone

It's a knowledge too horrible to live with every day. As I walked up the hill to the execution ground among them I sensed a communal air of pilgrimage to a shrine which will come for Tutsis to symbolise punishment, and a pledge and a warning never again. And there were those too who had lost everyone purely because they were here in Rwanda in 1994.

A widow at 33, Celestine lost her husband , three children, two parents, two grandparents, four aunts, two uncles and six cousins.

"No one had a proper burial you know," Celestine all but whispered to me as we walked.

"Their bodies were thrown into a pit by the militia like the bodies of dogs. For me this firing squad is not only for justice it is for my grief, it is for my mourning."

The military motorcade came suddenly and at high speed. Headlights flashing, horns blowing. It stopped outside the execution ground and I looked through the car window a few feet in front of me into the eyes of a man condemned to die.

He stared back. The man was called Froduald Karamira. He was notorious in Rwanda during the vicious one hundred days of killing in 1994. He led a Hutu extremist political party and directed its evil militia with radio broadcasts of instructions to kill.

It was all very quick

When he was condemned to die after a summary trial last year Frodwald Carimira smiled. Now he was dragged to a post, tied there and a black hood put over his head. A target was pinned to his chest. The firing squad came and quickly went.

The crowd cheered and the job done, people began the long trek from the execution ground back to their normal daily lives. It was all very quick and very matter of fact.

Curiosity was satisfied for some. Perhaps for others justice was felt to be done, perhaps grief was eased but there was no sense of this in the vast crowd. No sense that this will ease the raw gaping wounds left by the genocide. Perhaps nothing can ever heal them and perhaps in a country so damaged this public spectacle has left another scar.

Hutus fear the start of more bloodshed

At the bottom of the hill I met Etienne, a Hutu. He had not gone to see the firing squad.

"This is only the first time", he said to me.

"The Tutsis they will kill us all now in revenge and so that they can always rule Rwanda."

It was a sentiment I found expressed by other Hutus. Many who don't want to confront the horror of genocide of what they and their ethnic brethren did, who fear now that they will have to fight for survival.

Will they? Perhaps.

The questions in Rwanda are many, and the answers? I don't know anyone who has them.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

24 Apr 98 | Despatches
'This is what they wanted to see'

24 Apr 98 | Despatches
Remembering the victims of Nyamata

22 Apr 98 | Africa
Rwanda public executions attacked

In this section

Life and death in Orissa

A return to Chechnya

Belgrade Wonderland

Shame in a biblical land

Zambia's amazing potato cure

Whistling Turks

In the face of protest

Spinning the war Russian style

Gore's battle for nomination

Fighting for gay rights in Zimbabwe

A sacking and a coup

Feelings run high in post-war Kosovo