22 March 2009

Rwanda: 'Genocide Remains in Uganda Used for Witchcraft Purposes' - Report

Kigali — A damning report by Members of the Rwandan Parliament has revealed that the remains of victims of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi buried in Uganda could have been exhumed for use in witchcraft.

A parliamentary report, a copy of which The New Times has seen, indicates that one mass grave in Masaka District, in the central region of Uganda, had been tampered with, while other graves are said to have been defaced in different ways.

Tens of thousands of Genocide victims were washed away down the rivers of Nyabarongo and Akagera, both tributaries of Lake Victoria, and landed at different shores of East Africa's biggest lake.

The bodies were later buried at six different sites in Uganda.

The report was compiled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Unity, Human Rights and the fight against Genocide chaired by Evariste Kalisa, after a working visit to Uganda aimed at assessing the situation of the remains of Genocide victims buried there.

Kalisa's report indicates that many bodies are buried on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda.

"At the mass grave in Masaka District we found a bottle of local brew, coins and other witchcraft materials on top of the grave," reveals the report, dated March 19.

In an interview last Friday, Kalisa said that the condition of the graves were 'very saddening.'

"This clearly indicates that the bodies are exhumed and possibly used for witchcraft purposes."

The lawmakers also found that some shrines had been built on the mass graves located in Dimo, Masaka.

"This is so annoying. Our dead should be accorded a decent burial," Kalisa said.

When he presented his report to the House, MPs expressed shock over the abuse of the graves.

"In some areas, people are cultivating on top of the mass graves. The cattle graze on the graves," the report further states.

It further reveals that other sites are completely covered by bushes making them inaccessible. "This is horrible," Kalisa said.

MPs expressed concern over the reluctance by relevant organs to rebury the genocide remains.

Ministers to be summoned

The MPs voted for the immediate summoning of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rosemary Museminali and Culture Minister, Joseph Habineza to explain why nothing has been done about the Ugandan graves.

However, MP Kalisa said that despite the will by some in Uganda to accord a decent burial to the victims, other Ugandan authorities had reportedly blocked the move.

"Some Ugandan leaders have refused to offer land to us claiming it is taboo in their culture to exhume dead bodies."Kalisa explained.

The Rwandan government had disbursed US$97,000 (Approx Rwf53m) to the embassy in Kampala, for the reburial of the victims but when the embassy started the process, the authorities in Uganda are alleged to have blocked them.

Kalisa asserted that should Uganda remain adamant, Rwanda would consider taking the bodies back to Kigali.

It is not clear if Ugandan authorities will then allow the exhumation should Rwandan authorities decided to bring the bodies back home.

But, according to Kalisa, that will be the work for the concerned ministries to ensure that the bodies are exhumed and given a decent burial whether in Uganda or Rwanda.

"If the bodies are buried in Uganda, we recommend that the burial site be land that belongs to Rwanda," added Kalisa.

A source in Kampala told The New Times yesterday that, it is not rare to hear stories of human remains being stolen for witchcraft purposes. "It is very common here. Many people still believe in witchcraft," the source who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

Last year, skulls of the Ugandan bush war remains in Mubende District-Uganda were reportedly stolen by unknown people believed to be witchdoctors.

The MPs' report comes a few days ahead of the Genocide Commemoration week that falls on April 7 of each year.


Meanwhile during the parliamentary session, MPs called for quick intervention in providing permanent security at the mass graves to end the abuse.

According to the report, there are stones at the mass graves on which words 'victims of the Rwanda conflict' are engraved and MPs requested for an immediate change of the wording to 'victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.'

Other recommendations included the establishment of three main sites for re-burial including; Ggolo in Mpigi District, Lambu in Masaka District and Kasensero in Rakai District- all in Uganda.

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