The École Technique Officielle Don Bosco (ETO) was a secondary school run by the Salesian Fathers in the Nyanza-Kicukiro area of south-eastern Kigali, partly financed by a Belgian cooperation project. Before Habyarimana’s assassination, it had become the base camp for two UNAMIR Belgian platoons, 97 blue berets of the Kibat II Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Dewez (the Belgian commander) and Colonel Luc Marchal, and under the direct responsibility of Lieutenant Luc Lemaire.
From April 7 onwards, groups of people feeling unsafe began to flock to the ETO cantonment: there were mainly Tutsis, frightened by the mass killings that had already started all over Kigali, with some Hutus, especially opposition politicians and human rights activists with their families. Everyone was looking for the protection guaranteed by the well-armed blue berets. At first, Lieutenant Lemaire was opposed to accommodating all Rwandan refugees but under pressure from the Salesian Fathers who owned the school, he was forced to open the gates.
«In the days after 7 April 1994, more than 2,500 Rwandese people flocked to ETO. (…). They took extreme risks to reach the school and several people were killed along the way. (…). People went to ETO because they shared faith in the UNAMIR forces. They knew the soldiers were well-armed and trained, and -because they had come to Rwanda as “peacekeepers”- they knew that they had both the responsibility and the capacity to protect them» (Left to die at ETO and in Nyanza, 2001 by African Rights).
Refugees continued to pour into ETO on the 8th and 9th, and the situation inside the school became troublesome. The Belgian peacekeepers did not organize any orderly arrangement inside the structure and did not provide any food, water, blankets, or medical supplies to meet the needs of the refugees, not even of the children.
«Although it is not stated explicitly, the soldiers were clearly fearful for their own lives following the murder of the 10 Belgian paratroopers on the 7th.(…). The testimonies of survivors suggest that the soldiers maintained an aloof stance, exacerbating the refugees’ feelings of despair and alienation» (Ibidem).
It was a situation of political chaos and incessant slaughters of civilians, and the Belgian soldiers were concerned more with their security than with the survival of the refugees. The presence of the latter was considered a threat which exposed them all to new possible attacks, and during the afternoon of April 9, Lemaire decided to close the gate to Rwandans and to let enter only the ‘whites’, namely the ‘expatriates’ (who reached the number of approx. 150). Many refugees were therefore obliged to camp outside the ETO gates. «While the situation inside the ETO buildings was difficult, the people who had been unable to gain entry and were gathered on the sports field were left to fend for themselves entirely. Although they were only a few meters away from the UNAMIR soldiers’ camp, the people outside ETO felt very isolated and soon realized that the soldiers did not intend to offer them any assistance» (Ibidem).
At ETO, the discrimination policy between ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ adopted by UNAMIR Belgians was in plain sight. «There is a shared view among survivors that the Belgian soldiers saw them as part of the problem, rather than victims, and that their attitude was influenced by racism» (Ibidem). The Belgian discrimination policy was read by most Rwandan refugees as yet another confirmation of the lack of interest of the international community in the face of genocide. This awareness pushed many Tutsis to accept their massacre with passive despair.
Meanwhile, both groups of the Interahamwe militia and RAF soldiers began to be permanently stationed in the area outside the school, like crocodiles waiting for the best moment to launch a successful underwater ambush.
On Monday 11, some French paratroopers, recognizable from the flags on their uniforms and their red berets, arrived at ETO with some Europeans evacuated from various places. They gathered them together with the white expats already housed inside, loaded them onto lorries, and finally safely escorted all of them to the Kigali airport (French Operation Amaryllis and Belgian Silverback, do you remember?). The arrival of the French was a source of much concern to the refugees, but the sudden departure of the UNAMIR Belgian troops which took place around 2:00 pm was worse. It was the end of all hope. The UNAMIR Belgian soldiers told some refugees that they had arranged for them to be guarded by gendarmes. In other words, they left the flock to the care of wolves. Jean-Paul Biramvu, secretary-general of the Collective of Human Rights Leagues and Associations (CLADHO), was there with his family and survived. He said: «We could not believe what they were doing, just abandoning us when they knew the place was surrounded by killers».
In an act of desperation, some of the young men threw themselves in front of the convoy, trying to stop them. Belgian soldiers fired into the air and disappeared together with the last French paratroopers.
Almost immediately after the Belgians left, in a matter of minutes, Rwandan soldiers and militiamen entered the school grounds and start slaughtering men, women, and children with firearms, more often with machetes, clubs, axes, and spears. The refugees had no time and no way to escape. The large majority of them were blocked and herded in the rain along a dirt road, where many were killed or badly wounded, and left at the edge, like bags of garbage.
The survivors reached the headquarters of Sonatubes, a factory of building materials. At a clearing, they were ordered to sit down, robbed of any money or valuables they had brought with them, insulted, and humiliated. More and more Tutsi were obliged to gather at the Sonatubes factory, even refugees for other areas of Kigali. At some point, Colonel Léonidas Rusatira (member of FAR and Commander of the Ecole Supérieure Militaire) and Lieutenant Colonel Tharcisse Renzaho ordered the prisoners to move to Nyanza, where all the town rubbish was dumped. Killing them at Sonatubes was too risky: the compound overlooked the busy main road to the Kigali airport. A survivor remembers that Colonel Rusatira said: «Take them to Nyanza, and I’ll go and find a lorry and bring some food». It was a lie. A wicked lie. That to Nyanza was a death march. It was one of those horrific death marches that we no longer wanted to see after the Shoah.
«Flanked on both sides by Interahamwe, approximately 4,000 refugees were then forced to march to Nyanza» (Ibidem). Along the road, many women were raped and mutilated, and those too weak to walk were crushed like cockroaches. Vénuste Karasira (a survivor) remembers: «The entire road from Sonatubes to Nyanza was filled with civilians shrieking insults at us (…) Some of us got even robbed on the way to Nyanza». The hatred, the contempt of the civilians who along the way watched the Tutsis going to be slaughtered struck more painfully than the beatings. A survivor, Siméon Hitiyise, remembers: «It was as though every single Hutu had come to exterminate us; women, children, and young people too». Another survivor, Madeleine Mugorewera, recalls that at a certain point, after Kagarama, «a little boy of ten or twelve, carrying a sword which touched the ground, addressed Kayumba and demanded his watch. Kayumba, who was about 40 years old, complied without complaint».
Think about it and tell me, please, tell me something about that little boy of 10 or maybe 12 years. Tell me something about the women who watched the Tutsis going to be massacred like lambs to slaughter, rummaging with their eyes what they could still steal, a wrap, a bag, a piece of nothing. Tell me something about the men who cursed and spat and laughed, standing on the side of the road and watching the show. Tell me, ’cause I don’t know what to think. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
When the Tutsis reached Nyanza, at 5.00-5.30 p.m., the soldiers ordered everybody to sit down on the ground and give all the money they might still have in their pockets. Then, the victims were left seated, desperate, and suffering for half an hour. Finally, the civilian leaders like Georges Rutaganda, vice-president of Interahamwe, and the higher-ranking officers ordered to “get to work”. They attacked with machetes, grenades and guns. «It was a hellish scene of blood, fire, clouds of dust raised by the grenades, mutilated bodies and the screams of the wounded and dying» (Ibidem).
By late afternoon, as the sun was going down and most of the people were dead or dying, the soldiers left. The survivors were cut in their Achilles tendon to be unable to escape: they would be finished later, on the following morning, from 5 a.m. onwards. Some wounded people, like Vénuste Karasira, survived by hiding under a pile of corpses and fleeing during the night, with a few dozens ‘lucky’ people. On the 12th, RPF soldiers could stop the slaughter and rescued 200 Tutsis who had survived the massacre. They were 5% of the total victims. The youngest ‘lamb’ was only 1 month old.
Vianney Ndacyayisenga, a survivor who lost his hand on the 11th, said: «I think God abandoned us that day».
Not the case, probably. After Auschwitz, God as omnipotent, good, and understandable has become a totally unthinkable concept.