Juliet Mukakabanda was hiding with her husband and three children in a small church in southern Rwanda in 1994 when the family was taken to a nearby school by local leaders who promised them "protection" in the face of the ongoing genocide in that country.
As a Hutu married to a Tutsi, Mukakabanda and her husband were prime targets for Hutu extremists who spread terror in the country.
An estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi, died between April and July 1994 in the Rwandan genocide.
Some of the darkest episodes took place in Gikongoro prefecture, where the family was taking refuge.
There they found themselves facing a bloodbath allegedly orchestrated by local leaders, including Prefect Laurent Bucyibaruta, who is on trial in France as of Monday for genocide, complicity with genocide and complicity with crimes against humanity.
The terrified family first took shelter in a local church in Gikongoro (since renamed Nyamagabe) after Hutu mobs set fire to the houses of Tutsi residents of their village.
They then joined the crowd sheltering at Gikongoro’s Murambi Technical School, convinced that the hilltop compound was their best chance of avoiding militias patrolling Rwanda with guns and machetes.
But it was a trap.
A few days later, around 3:00 a.m. on April 21, his supposed sanctuary was attacked.
"We heard gunshots outside the school complex. The killers had guns, grenades, clubs, machetes, all kinds of weapons. My main concern was my children, I did not know how to protect them"Mukakabanda explains to AFP.
At 58 years old, Mukakabanda recounts his memories from that same school, now converted into one of the main memorials of the Rwandan genocide, with rows of black granite monuments with the names of the deceased and the number of the class where their skeletons rest. .
– ’34 survivors’
With militias surrounding the school, her husband and other men decided to go out and fight, leaving the women locked in the classrooms with the children.
"They fought with everything they could, with stones and sticks. But they couldn’t match the bullets and the grenades"recounts.
When the mob broke down the door, Mukakabanda remembers kneeling on the ground, her one-month-old baby rocking on her back, and beginning to pray and beg for mercy.
Seeing her Hutu identity card, the militiamen told her to stay outside as they entered the building, going from room to room and massacring everyone, including her husband and two of her children.
According to witnesses to these horrific events, local leaders assured the Tutsi population that they would be better protected by staying in one place rather than being scattered, and promised them food and water.
Instead, the authorities cut off the water supply to the school and deprived its tenants of food, making it more difficult for them to resist the attack.
Mukakabanda points an accusing finger at Bucyibaruta, who denies the charges and any involvement in the massacre, according to his lawyers.