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Nyamata Genocide Memorial Site

Kigali, Rwanda

Nyamata Genocide Memorial Site

This site is a church where around 2,500 people were killed and it has become emblematic of the barbaric treatment of women during the genocide. In the church at Nyamata, there will be graphic and audio-visual displays that will focus particularly on the mass rape, brutalisation of women and the use of HIV as a deliberate weapon of genocide.

The Nyamata Church Genocide Memorial , Nyamata is situated in the Bugesera region, approximately 35 kilometers from the capital city of Kigali. Nyamata and the surrounding region suffered some of the most extensive devastation in 1994, a result of targeted attacks during the Genocide Against the Tutsi.

When the Genocide began in April of 1994, many residents of the region gathered in Nyamata and sought protection at the local Catholic Church. The church compound, tended to by priests and nuns, provided a haven for the frightened masses that flocked to the compound, hoping to escape death. The church was thought of as a place of refuge and of sanctuary where the militia would not dare to attack.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. According to testimonies given by survivors and evidence gathered, approximately 10,000 civilians were killed in and around the Catholic Church compound on April 10, 1994. As the marauding killers approached, people gathered in the church and padlocked the iron door that safeguarded the entrance. Members of the ‘Interahamwe’, the Hutu militia, and the Rwandese Government Forces forced the door open and entered the church with their rifles, grenades and machetes. They massacred the people hiding inside the church and also went on to kill those in the surrounding area.


The brick walls show several gaping holes. The victims inside had locked the doors to prevent the militia and soldiers from entering the church. In response, the Interahamwe used sledge hammers to break open holes in the wall, through which grenades were thrown into the church, causing many deaths and stunning those trapped inside. The killers eventually forced their way into the church and proceeded to murder the surviving men, women and children, using machetes, clubs, and local farming tools. The ceiling is riddled with bullet holes and is still stained with blood. The remains have been removed from inside the church and placed in two mass graves located behind the church. But the clothing of the victims remain: It has been placed in piles that line the pews of the church, as well as the floor in the certain places. Although the remains have been removed, bones still peek out of the clothing; a rib here, a vertebrae there. The alter cloth still covers the alter, stained in blood.

In memory of the people who lost their lives in Nyamata Church and its surrounding area, the Rwandese government, in collaboration with the Genocide survivors from the Nyamata area, decided to preserve the church as a memorial to the Genocide Against the Tutsi. Services are no longer held here. Today, this site is visited by tourists, students, survivors and activists who want to learn about the Genocide and those who wish to honor the victims and the survivors of this horrible atrocity

The outwardly typical brick church is silent today. White and purple memorial adornments lead the visitor along a stone path from the gates into the church. At the main door, one waits to be led through the grounds by survivor guides who provide solemn, minimal narration of the incomprehensible site. The corrugated tin roof is visibly pocked by innumerable bullet holes. There are no more physical remains inside the expansive main area of worship, however the altar’s white sheet covering still bears bloodstains.

The church basement, accessible down steep steps in the back, has been converted into a permanent catacomb. On either side of its very narrow hallways stand racks of skulls, bones, and coffins. Above the church’s main entrance is a banner in Kinyarwanda, meaning “If you had known me, and you had really known yourself, you would not have killed me.”

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