Grim Testimony from the Dead of Two Years Ago

Nyamiagabe, Rwanda — Sights, sounds and even the smell of violence frequently remain etched in memory long after they have occurred. The stench of rotting cadavers will stay with you a good while after you’ve turned away. The surroundings had given no hint of the remains laid out inside the cinder-block classrooms: a hilltop breeze passing through eucalyptus trees, and fields of black earth planted with sorghum, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Two years after the government says they were slain, the victims’ fragile-looking skeletons and skulls have withered to a dusty gray in what was once a village school, permanent testimony to their brutal killing. Bits of flesh, tufts of thick black hair and strips of clothing cling to some. They lie frozen in final gestures: Some are curled up in a fetal ball as if cowering or nursing wounds; others have both arms around their heads, finger bones clenched in defiance; here a child clings to its mother.

Some skeletons are well over 6 feet long, fitting the image of East Central Africa’s tallest people, the Tutsis. In Rwanda’s genocide, more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus perished. Roughly half the Tutsi population was killed. Thousands of others fled to neighboring countries.

Now they are returning.