As the genocide intensified in Kigali and across Rwanda, so did the murders of Tutsi UNDP workers. A tiny contingent of U.N. peacekeeping soldiers and U.N. civilians tried to rescue Tutsis, but it was often impossible to penetrate the hundreds of militia barricades erected throughout Kigali.
Gregory Alex was especially concerned about Florence Ngirumpatse, the UNDP's popular director of personnel and a Tutsi. Ngirumpatse was a distant relative of the Tutsi rebel commander, Paul Kagame. The Hutu government jailed Ngirumpatse in 1990 during a crackdown on suspected dissidents. Former co-workers say Ngirumpatse was despised by Hutu extremists.
When the genocide erupted, Ngirumpatse was trapped in her house just half a mile from the UNDP compound. With her were 12 others, mainly schoolgirls, who were the children of friends and colleagues. According to Alex, Ngirumpatse took in the girls in the belief that her U.N. status would help protect them.
Surrounded by trees, the house is a single story building that sits halfway down a dead-end dirt lane. There were no avenues of escape for Ngirumpatse and the children. Standing in front of her home, Gregory Alex remembers grisly scenes at the militia barricades erected in front of the butcher shop at the entrance to Ngirumpatse's street. During the genocide, Alex saw militiamen armed with axes, machetes and machine guns. "They would sit there during the day, drink their beers and kill people. And come here and terrorize Florence and the kids."
Florence Ngirumpatse's house (left)
photo by Stephen Smith
By mid-May, Ngirumpatse's situation was dire. Her phone was still working and she made desperate calls to U.N. officials pleading for help. She also managed to call rebel commander Paul Kagame. Kagame is now Rwanda's president. He says Ngirumpatse told him the militia was visiting the house and that she was nearly dead.
"And I asked her, 'What do you mean?'" says President Kagame. "She told me how all the women in the house had been raped by the militias, who would just come in, sleep with them, then leave, then come the next day and so on. She said living like that is like being dead."
Gregory Alex says U.N. headquarters had banned evacuation attempts of Rwandan staff in order to maintain the U.N.'s neutrality. Still, Alex and other U.N. workers pressed the U.N. to rescind the ban.
"Florence represented more than just her," says Alex. "For all of her goodness and all of the things we saw in her, she represented the first official attempt by the U.N. to actually do something."
Authorization for Florence Ngirumpatse's evacuation finally came in the middle of May, five weeks into the genocide, but it was too late. Hours before U.N. vehicles were dispatched, militiamen invaded the home, hacking Ngirumpatse and the 12 others to death.