The remains of up to 1,700 victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi have been exhumed from 21 mass graves in the Kigali suburbs of Gahoromani in Kabuga, and Masaka, in the past month.
The existence of the graves was revealed by a genocide suspect through an outburst while on a drinking spree in April.
Papius Mbarushimana was arrested last week when he attempted to bribe a representative of the local genocide survivors association, Ibuka, to halt the search for more remains in his compound.
“In Gahoromani we discovered up to 1,000 bodies. In the past two days we found up to 171 bodies in Masaka, in addition to the 600 we had already exhumed in Masaka,” said Innocent Gasinzigwa, the Ibuka representative in Masaka.
The remains discovered in Gahoromani and Masaka are believed to belong to victims who came from surrounding places, like Kigali, Bugesera, Rwamagana and others.
It is said that the victims could have been tricked that they were being taken to a safe location, but were slaughtered.
One of the mass graves in Gahoromani was found in the living room of a house. Residents had to dig up to 30 metres to find the remains, after a tip off from a whistleblower.
Mr Gasinzigwa says the number of victims recovered could reach 2,000 as there are other mass graves yet to be excavated.
“We have found remains at least in every mass grave people have directed us to. Some graves had maize planted on them,” he said.
Residents are still tight-lipped, giving little information. This has made it difficult for people who lost their loved ones to identify their remains.
The discoveries are rather macabre. In one of the mass graves at Gahoromani, the remains were completely dismembered and bones broken into small pieces, because the killers doused the bodies in acid. In other graves, all the remains were missing heads.
“This process has showed us the unimaginable brutality the killers used. It was hard for us to count the bodies because the bones were in small pieces. We counted shoes and other body parts that had not been destroyed,” said Mr Gasinzingwa.
He said the had heard stories that the killers cut off the heads of their victims and took them to their leaders as proof of their actions, then they buried the bodies.
Genocide survivors and other members of the public with loved ones whose remains were never found have been going to the excavation sites with hopes of finding them but only few have managed to trace their relatives.
“Few have managed to identify their loved ones from the remains. One of the survivors traced his father’s remains from a piece of his shirt; he remembered his father’s shirt,” Mr Gasinzingwa said.
Ibuka secretary general Naphtali Ahishakiye said the fact that people are still concealing information 24 years after the genocide shows that the ideology is still present.
“Despite the energy invested by government and other partners in the reconciliation process and the fight against genocide ideology, we are still discovering mass graves,” he said.
“We are maximising on the little information we get. There are other places that we heard have mass graves; some are beneath large institutions and others have undergone transformation,” he said.
The next step will be to provide a decent burial where their families come and pay their respects.
CNLG is yet to indicate where the bodies will be buried, but they are likely to be interred at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial where other victims lie.
In April, 200 bodies were discovered in Rusororo in Gasabo district.