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Brother Charles Rutaganira survived the genocide thanks to fellow Witnesses who lovingly risked their lives to care for and protect him

AUGUST 1, 2019
RWANDA

Remembering the Rwandan Genocide—25 Years Later

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda was one of the fastest-moving and most horrific genocides in modern history. The United Nations estimates that some 800,000 to 1,000,000 were murdered in about 100 days. The majority of victims were Tutsi, but Hutu who refused to support the killings were also marked for slaughter. This meant that every one of the 2,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rwanda faced mortal danger.

About 400 of our Rwandan brothers and sisters perished in the genocide, most of them Tutsi. But Hutu Witnesses also died because it was unthinkable for them to harm others or to abandon their Christian brothers and sisters to the killers.

Brother Charles Rutaganira, a Tutsi who survived the genocide 25 years ago, still vividly recalls that Sunday morning when he was certain that he would be killed—and how self-sacrificing love saved his life.

When about 30 attackers swarmed his house, he was in disbelief. He says: “Most of them were my neighbors. We said hello to each other every day.” But when the mob came to his house that morning, he saw that they had changed. “Their eyes were red and filled with hate. They looked like animals eager to devour their prey.”

The mob assaulted Brother Rutaganira with machetes, spears, and clubs studded with nails—simply because he was a Tutsi. Then, they dragged him out to the street and left him there to die. As he lay there semiconscious and bleeding, a crew with shovels came by to bury his body. Apparently, one of them recognized Brother Rutaganira as a peaceful Christian man and asked, “Why did they kill this Jehovah’s Witness?” No one replied. Just then, a heavy rain began to fall and they left.

Samuel Rwamakuba, a Hutu brother who lived nearby, heard about Brother Rutaganira and sent his son in the pouring rain to carry him to their home. Two other Hutu brothers braved the dangerous streets to bring medicine and bandages. The killers came looking for Brother Rutaganira. On locating him at a Hutu home, the leader threatened: “We will solve this problem tomorrow morning.”

All the Hutu brothers knew they could die for their acts of kindness toward a Tutsi. According to Brother Rutaganira: “If someone was supposed to be killed and you tried to save his life, they definitely would kill you and kill him at the same time.”

As a Hutu, Brother Rwamakuba might have been able to flee and pass the roadblocks, which were manned day and night by armed militias. But he refused to abandon his wounded Tutsi brother, telling him: “I will not leave you. Where you die, I will die.”

Early the next day, a battle with opposition soldiers broke out in the streets and the killers fled.

After Brother Rutaganira recovered from his wounds, he returned to find many in his congregation mourning the senseless murder of loved ones and suffering from emotional and physical trauma, including torture and rape. “The first few months after the genocide were especially difficult,” Brother Rutaganira recalls. But with love and understanding, Hutu and Tutsi brothers and sisters helped one another to heal. “They worked hard not to have any hypocrisy or distinction or division among them,” he says.

In April 2019, an exhibition at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, told the stories of brothers and sisters who survived and those who died during the genocide in Rwanda

Despite their deep distress, Witnesses throughout Rwanda resumed their Christian meetings and preaching work. They found many in desperate need of spiritual comfort. Some people were tormented by the horrific losses they suffered. Others were tortured by their own consciences because of the terrible deeds they had committed. Many in Rwanda felt betrayed—by their neighbors, by their leaders, and especially by their churches. (See the box “ The Churches’ Role in the Genocide in Rwanda.”)

Yet, among Rwandans, the peaceful conduct of Jehovah’s people stood out. A Catholic Tutsi schoolteacher and her six children were hidden by a Witness family she hardly knew. She says: “I have a grand appreciation for Jehovah’s Witnesses. . . . Most people saw that they did not get involved with the genocide.”

After the horrors of the genocide, Rwandans filled the Kingdom Halls. On average, every publisher conducted three Bible studies. During the 1996 service year, the number of Witnesses in Rwanda increased more than 60 percent, as people yearned for the healing balm of the Kingdom message.

For many, especially survivors, the 25th anniversary of the genocide is a time of deep reflection. Brother Rutaganira and other eyewitnesses remain convinced that Christlike love is far more powerful than racial hatred. “Jesus Christ taught his true followers to love one another more than themselves,” Brother Rutaganira says. “I am alive today because this kind of love is a reality among Jehovah’s people.”—John 15:13.