In April 1994 President Habyarimana restated his commitment to the peace and power-sharing agreement which had been signed the previous year, a commitment which alarmed extremist Hutus.
On 6 April the plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down near the capital Kigali, killing both him and President Cyprian Ntayamira of neighbouring Burundi, also a Hutu. It remains unclear who was responsible, but the blame was immediately placed on Tutsi insurgents. Attacks began against both Tutsis and moderate Hutus who supported the peace agreement, including Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. Massacres of political opponents and Tutsis by the Rwandan Armed Forces and the Interahamwe began.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana, her husband and children sought protection from the UN forces stationed in the country. On 7 April the Prime Minister and her husband left their compound and were shot and killed by the Presidential Guard. Their children escaped and took refuge in Switzerland. On the same day the Interahamwe set up roadblocks and started to round up and kill Tutsi men, women and children. Most were killed by pangas – machete-like weapons.
The military camp in Kigali where 10 Belgian peacekeepers were tortured and murdered at the beginning of the genocide
As the murders continued many people sought refuge in what they believed would be safe havens – churches, hospitals, schools, sports stadia and community centres. The Interahamwe, knowing that people were seeking refuge in these places, deliberately targeted them. On 15 and 16 April, between 5,000 and 10,000 people were massacred at the Nyarubuye Catholic Church. 4,500 were murdered at Kibuye Football Stadium and 3,500 at Gatwaro Stadium.
The Government and Armed Forces encouraged civilians to carry out the murder of their neighbours and friends. Hutus who refused do so included local officials, priests and nuns. They were then targeted and attacked. The murderers used a variety of weapons such as machetes, clubs with nails embedded in them, axes and nails. Guns were not preferred weapons as they killed victims too quickly and the bullets were too expensive.
Despite the horrific scenes taking place across Rwanda there were also acts of great bravery.
Sula Karuhimbi was an elderly woman who lived alone on a small farm and had knowledge of natural medicines. When the genocide began she hid more than 20 Tutsis in her animal shed and fed them from her small stock of vegetables. When attackers came to her farm she used her reputation as a witch to frighten them off and protect the people hiding.
Following the death of her uncle and cousins Beata Uwazaninka fled to the house of a neighbour, Yahaya. He refused to allow the Interahamwe into his home to murder Beata despite the risk to himself and his family. Yahaya was a Muslim who said that in the Koran it states ‘If you save one life, it saves the world entire.’ A similar phrase also appears in Jewish texts.
Others survived by hiding in their towns or by escaping to the Congo, such as Jean Louis Mazimpaka where there were refugee camps. These camps also posed dangers as Hutus deliberately targeted them knowing that Tutsis sought safety in them.
Some survived because their attackers believed them to be dead. Daphrose Mukangarambe was married with five children. She was hit, beaten and finally hit with a machete on her forehead and lost consciousness. Before she lost consciousness she saw her baby murdered by a neighbour and dogs taking the body. Daphrose was the only member of her family to survive the genocide.
On 17 July the opposition Rwandan Patriotic Front troops reached the capital and the genocide finally ended.
In the 100 days of the genocide over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered. Many more were maimed and scarred for life. The United Nations reported that at least 250,000 women and girls were raped and of those who survived the genocide 70% were estimated to have contracted HIV/ AIDS.
Around 75% of the Tutsi population was murdered during the genocide, leaving a much reduced population surviving and attempting to rebuild their lives.