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Victims of Rwandan Genocide Identified in Newly Discovered Mass Graves

The discovery comes almost a quarter century after the genocide occurred

Clothes of genocide victims whose bodies were recently exhumed hang outside at the site of the mass grave in Gasabo district, near the capital Kigali, in Rwanda (AP Photo/Eric Murinzi)
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Nearly a quarter century after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide began, its atrocities are still coming to light.

As NPR’s Sasha Ingber reports, four unmarked mass graves have been found about 80 feet below the surface in Rwanda's Gasabo district, near the capital of Kigali.

The first bodies there were found April 22, as Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti first reported for the Rwanda daily The New Times. According to Agence France-Presse, more than 200 bodies have now been unearthed. It's estimated that some 2,000 or 3,000 people may still be buried in the mass graves, Ibuka, a genocide survivors' organization, tells the Associated Press’ Ignatius Ssuuna.

The unmarked graves were located near Kigali Genocide Memorial, where about 250,000 victims of the genocide have since been re-buried.

More than 800,000 people were killed within 100 days of mass murder of the country's Tutsi ethnic minority perpetrated by the majority Hutu ethnic population in 1994. Twas, another ethnic group, and moderate Hutus were also targeted in the systematic killings, considered one of the worst genocides of recent history.

As the BBC explains, on April 6, 1994, the plane of Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down above Kigali. Both officials were Hutus. Within hours of the attack, Hutu extremists laid out plans to exterminate the Tutsi population, along with any political opponents. What followed was a rapid and brutal genocidal campaign, with radio stations and newspapers urging Hutus to "weed out the cockroaches,” and naming Tutsi neighbors to be slaughtered.

Ssuuna reports that the discovery of newly unearthed mass graves occurred after a local landlord refused to answer questions about a possible grave until he was threatened with arrest.

Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., tells NPR he isn’t surprised to learn about the graves. "The country is pockmarked with mass graves," he says.

The New Times reports that survivors of the genocide have already visited the site, in hopes of identifying the bodies or personal effects of loved ones.

As Honore Gatera, the managing director of the Kigali Memorial Center, tells AFP, these newly discovered mass graves were just one piece of a larger attempt to erase the evidence of the genocide. “The bodies found in Rusororo will not be the last to be found,” he says.

About Julissa Treviño

Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist based in Texas. She has written for Columbia Journalism Review, BBC Future, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, CityLab and Pacific Standard.

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