Rwanda: The history of the genocide in Sector Gishamvu

Originally published


A Collective Account

January 2003

As part of its work in monitoring the implementation of the gacaca trials, African Rights has compiled a written record of the history of the 1994 genocide in the 12 original pilot sectors. This first report is devoted to sector Gishamvu, Nyakizu district in Butare, which began hearings in June 2002. Based upon the collective testimony given by groups of residents who were present during the genocide-prisoners, survivors and local people who witnessed how the killings unfolded-this report aims to reflect a broad consensus on what happened.

In an effort to facilitate an open discussion and to obtain a balanced account, African Rights interviewed genocide suspects separately from survivors and witnesses, presenting the groups with a series of general questions and encouraging them to discuss them. They then appointed a spokesperson to deliver a shared recollection of events in their presence to ensure those involved agreed upon the final version.

In many cases, there are discrepancies with regard to times or dates. To a large extent, these may be attributed to the length of time which has elapsed and to the turmoil of the period itself. Inevitably, survivors and perpetrators focus on distinct aspects of the violence and from the opposite perspective. As a result, individual facts may remain contested. However, remarkable consistencies also emerge, providing a strong testament to many of the atrocities of the genocide in these pilot sectors.

In many respects, this endeavour on the part of African Rights corresponds to that of the gacaca trials themselves in uncovering the truth, as expressed by local residents. Indeed many of the voices that contributed to it have also spoken in the gacaca courts. The need to provide an independent report to stand alongside that which the court will submit is, however, in our view, essential. Practical concerns such as delays in gacaca hearings, difficulties in attending, intimidation and the fact that some court secretaries are semi-literate affect the progress of the courts in some areas. Moreover, as this report notes, the limited remit of the cellule courts delivers a segmented account of the genocide. The courts begin with the lists of known victims and perpetrators, a lengthy process, and then gather testimony relating to these specific deaths and abuses. Particularly given the redrawing of the commune boundaries, some of the events which locals regard as part of their experience, are necessarily omitted. The prosecutions require specific evidence, but the bigger picture can slide from view in the process.

This series of reports seeks to provide a background against which the results of the trials can be measured and to exist as a shared point of reference for all the residents. In this sense it is intended to support the gacaca trials and their emphasis upon justice and the fostering of mutual understanding.




  • 2.1 Cellule Gishamvu
    a) The Detainees at Gishamvu Detention Centre
    b) The Detainees at Karubanda Central Prison
    c) The Genocide Survivors and Other Witnesses

  • 2.2 Cellule Busoro
    a) The Detainees at Gishamvu Detention Centre
    b) The Genocide Survivors and Other Witnesses

  • 2.3 Cellule Muboni
    a) The Detainees at Gishamvu Detention Centre
    b) The Genocide Survivors and Other Witnesses


Gishamvu sector is made up of three cellules, Busoro, Gishamvu and Muboni. Its territorial boundaries have remained unchanged since before the genocide, despite the recent administrative carve-up. The sector retains the same surface area, the same number of cellules and the same designations. Gishamvu sector is now part of Nyakizu district, whereas previously it was one of the ten sectors that made up Gishamvu commune.

At the time of the genocide, Gishamvu sector already had a strong social infrastructure, including Gishamvu commune office; the office of Busoro sous-prefecture which brought together the communes of Gishamvu, Kigembe, Nyakizu and Runyinya; the Catholic Parish of Nyumba; the Bernadine and Benebikira congregations of nuns; the primary school and Busoro trading centre. There was also the co-operative of blacksmiths of Gishamvu, COFOGI, which produced a sufficient number of blade weapons to wipe out the Tutsis in the region. This collection of buildings was located less than a kilometre from the Grand Seminary of Nyakibanda, the leading training centre for clerics in the country, located in the neighbouring sector of Nyakibanda.

During the 1994, genocide Nyumba parish and Nyakibanda seminary recorded the highest figures for victims in the area. Several thousand people who had sought refuge there were massacred by killers who had hurried there from the four corners of the region. At the time of our research, there were 351 people held at Gishamvu detention centre accused of genocide. They included about 256 people who had taken advantage of the confession procedure. A total of 28 prisoners are from Gishamvu sector; other suspects from that sector are held at Karubanda central prison. But according to the testimonies of the detainees interviewed in Gishamvu, a significant number of people suspected of having carried out the massacres in Gishamvu have found refuge abroad, notably in the Congo, Burundi or Tanzania, or their whereabouts remain unknown since they had come from elsewhere.

In Gishamvu, the activities of the gacaca trials began on 19 June 2002, the day after the launch of the trials by the President of the Republic, Paul Kagame. The choice of sector Gishamvu in Butare province, as a pilot sector for the trials was based on several factors, notably the number of victims who were killed in the Grand Seminary of Nyakibanda and Nyumba parish. The three cellules which make up Gishamvu sector have now reached the sixth general assembly of the gacaca trials, which has ultimately to draw up the list of the accused. It will be followed by the seventh meeting which aims to complete the individual files of the accused before the phase of the actual judgement.

In order to obtain an overall view of the way in which the genocide unfolded in Gishamvu sector, African Rights interviewed different elements of the population of the sector itself. We listened to the detainees suspected of having committed genocide. We also interviewed the survivors of the genocide and other witnesses with the aim of seeing if they all agreed on an account of the facts. Lastly, having compared the two versions to check the facts, we include our own comments.

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