The floor was covered in blood and human waste. Some of the children were picking up corn out of the human waste and eating it. -Sergeant Terry Pickard
There was a gap between two walls where the RPA were shooting into the compound and someone was shooting out of the compound. A few rounds came through the gap in the wall. That’s when I knew I was risking my life to save and protect others. -Private Paul Burke
We always remember that as a small victory. Despite all the [Rwandan Army] did to that mass of humanity, we got one little girl out of there. – Captain Carol Vaughan-Evans
The Rwandan soldiers were taking pot shots at him. He was confused. He didn’t know what to do. – Corporal Paul Jordan
My boots were filling up with his blood and he ended up in intensive care for a quite a while but he lived. -Lieutenant Robbie Lucas
I gave him a handover and came back up to our area to sit down and have a smoke. I really had to think hard about how to get back up again. One of the boys made me a brew and I started to shake. -Lieutenant Thomas Steve Tilbrook
The look of pure desperation and animal-like fear in the father’s dark, wide eyes will be burned into my memory forever. -Sergeant Terry Pickard
On the 22nd of April to the 24th of April, 1995, a 32 strong Australian force were witness to a massacre of thousands of people. Over the course of three days they worked under heavy fire collecting and treating victims. Men. Women. Children. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned with Rules of Engagement which would not allow them to intervene they instead tended to the wounded and saved lives where they could.
Rwanda is a small mountainous country in central Africa made up mostly of two ethnicities. The Hutu and the Tutsi. The Tutsi are the minority of the population but held a majority of privilege when the Rwanda was a Belgian colony. Following a long civil war which has seen numerous massacres carried out and people displaced like refugees in their own country the fighting came to an end. The Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the Hutu government and took power in July 1994.
In August 1994 the Australian troops as part of UNAMIR II arrived. Their mission was to provide medical support to the 5,500 strong UN Mission mostly made up of troops from other African nations. Internally displaced people’s camps were scattered across the country housing hundreds of thousands of people who has lost everything due to the long civil war and were refugees in their own country. The RPF newly named the Rwandan Patriotic Army wanted the camps closed. It was said that the camps sheltered former Hutu forces and were being used as bases from which to strike the RPA. At Kibeho, site of a massacre of Tutsis only the year before was an IDP camp of approximately 150,000 Hutus. The RPA moved 1,000 troops to Kibeho on the 18th of April, 1995 and herded the IDPs into a cordoned off area. On the 19th of April 1995, 32 personnel from the Australian Medical Support Force were dispatched by the UN to Kibeho joining a Zambian infantry company already on the site to help treat people. IDPs would be screened by the RPA at a checkpoint exiting the camp. There genocide survivors from past atrocities would point out individuals who would then be taken away and presumably executed. Shots were being fired and bodies were turning up although the RPA said they were firing into the air for crowd control purposes.
On the 22nd of April, 1995 the Australians arrived at Kibeho and found that many IDPs had been killed the night before. Either shot by the RPA or hacked by machetes inside the camp by Hutu militia members. The Hutu militia members were doing this to terrorise the refugees into remaining in the camps so as to protect them. The wounded were being treated in a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and the Australians set up a medical station there. ” The floor was covered in blood and human waste. Some of the children were picking up corn out of the human waste and eating it. Some of the mothers did the same, but first re-cooked the corns in tins of water heated over their little fires. The RPA had cut off all food and water supplies to the camp five days earlier. Now the refugees were showing their sheer desperation to survive.”
While the medics worked, the Australian infantry sent with them for protection went out with stretchers and retrieved casualties. At 10am shots were fired towards the hospital and the Australian infantry commander Lt Steve Tilbrook ordered the Australians to move towards the Zambian company compound for protection due to its defensive fortifications. The RPA moved into the hospital and started shooting. In the IDP camp the refugees stampeded but the Rwandese troops had set up a cordon around the nearby valley and hunted down the refugees. The Zambian compound was swamped by people trying to escape and Lance Corporal Andy Miller was caught up in the rush. A guy came out of the crowd and started hitting him with a stick. Miller had his own get back stick and the two flogged the hell out of each other until both of their sticks broke. As Miller’s stick broke someone in the crowd threw a rock at him. He grabbed his rifle and cocked it as the crowd moved in and the rock thrower disappeared. He managed to get back to his men where he ordered them to fix bayonets until things calmed down and they were able to return to stretcher bearer duties.
Captain Carol Vaughan-Evans was in charge of the medical team who continued to work calling in for a medevac via helicopter. She and her team also took casualties out to the heli-pad several times coming under fire. While waiting at the heli-pad the Australians would sit in front of casualties shielding their bodies with their own. The RPA ordered Captain Vaughan-Evans and her team not to go to the MSF hospital. Repeatedly they did this even though they were told to stop or they would be killed. While carrying out life saving work on the casualties bullets landed directly around the medical personnel. As the massacre went on they began to run low on supplies. They could no longer throw away gloves after each patient but simply had to wash them in buckets of rain water. They ran out of alcohol swabs having to use water instead and in time IV fluids, morphine and the like also ran out.
Sgt Pickard kept a personal journal and noted some of the wounded he treated at Kibeho. The following is but one example of many.
This boy had walked up from the ward and tapped me on the arm. I was a little amused at first to see him grabbing at my shirtsleeve and wondered what he wanted. Then, when he turned sideways and pointed at the left-hand side of his chest, I understood clearly what he wanted. There was a medium-sized entry wound in the front left of his chest and when I turned him around I saw he had a very large exploded exit wound in the back left of his rib cage. All his shattered ribs were well exposed and I could clearly see his damaged lung. I stood for a moment absolutely stunned and wondered how the hell this boy was still alive with half of his chest missing, let alone being able to walk around. All I could think of doing was wrapping his upper body up in roller bandages to try and keep everything reasonably in place. I tried to get a drip in but due to dehydration form the amount of blood he had lost he had venous shutdown and I could not get a vein anywhere. He was evacuated to Butare on the next available chopper…
In addition to providing protection, infantry soldiers were coming under fire as stretcher bearers. They were sent out repeatedly to pick which casualties to bring to the Critical Casualty Post making decisions on who lived and who died despite no medical training. Furthermore on occasions infantry soldiers bandaged victims and looked after bags of fluids on drips after quickly learning on the run.
Medecins Sans Frontieres staff informed Lt Tilbrook that there were still some of their staff in the hospital. The officer with two Australian diggers on foot went from the Zambian compound to the hospital in between crisscrossing fire between Hutu militia and RPA who were shooting at each other. Having successfully returned a panicked MSF doctor told him there was still one member missing. With two other diggers he went back to the hospital and found a woman hiding in a cupboard and all four returned safely again.
SAS medic Trooper Trooper Jon Church found a bawling three year old girl and carried her out. ” If you look closely at that photograph, there are tears running down Jonathan’s face.” tells photographer George Gittoes. Only able to treat the wounded another medic bandaged her arm to make it appear she was wounded and she was given a biscuit laced with Diazepam. The sedative put her to sleep and the Australians put her in one of the ambulance storage bins as they drove out stopping at each of the RPA check points. Vaughan-Evans later wrote ” We always remember that as a small victory. Despite all the [Rwandan Army] did to that mass of humanity, we got one little girl out of there.”
Small victories were few and far between. SAS Medic Corporal Paul Jordan gestured for an elderly woman to come to him. Instead she went over to an RPA soldier. He put his arm around her and walked her up a hill. Then he turned and smiled at the Australian soldier. He shoved the woman to the ground and shot her dead. Such actions were meant to goad the Australians to disregard their Rules of Engagement which would have given the 2,000 RPA troops present the excuse to open fire on the 32 strong Australian contingent. Another time an Australian soldier repeatedly forced a refugee back over the razor wire of the Zambian compound. The RPA came and got him. Such hard decisions had to be made by Australian soldiers and lived with in the years to come. At another point in the massacre Aussies behind sandbags saw a man, woman and child; most likely a family sprinting towards them. Medic Sgt Terry Pickard said they should down behind their sandbags. They did and seconds later a massive amount of machine gun fire went into the area, when they looked up all three were dead. ” The look of pure desperation and animal-like fear in the father’s dark, wide eyes will be burned into my memory forever.” Tells Pickard.
” The Rwandan soldiers were taking pot shots at him. He was confused. He didn’t know what to do. I saw that the yelling and screaming wasn’t doing any good so I ran out and grabbed the boy and brought him back.” Corporal Paul Jordan spoke of when he under fire saved a little boy named Buragaya Patera. Some shrapnel had gone straight through his chest. Lt Robbie Lucas treated him and went out with him on the medevac chopper. ” My boots were filling up with his blood and he ended up in intensive care for a quite a while but he lived. He and I became very close over that time. He would always point at a photo of my wife and family and say “Robbie, Melissa, Nathan, Joshua,” and then point to himself and say “Buragaya”, which was very heart rending.” Tells Lt Lucas.
Lt Lucas often visited the boy in the hospital and would have liked to adopt him but he had to take him to the Mother Theresa orphanage. Buragaya Patera was sent to family in neighbouring Congo by the Red Cross. There was a similar killing spree in the Congo. Despite many inquiries no one knows if young Buragaya survived.
The majority of the killing took place as a thousand refugees rushed out of the camp again as night neared. Standing on a ridge above them the Tutsis fired upon them with small arms, RPGs, and .50 cal machine guns. Then they moved through the valley and shot the wounded.
That night the Australians camped at a small village just north of Kibeho where a number of Australians had been flown in that day including a second medical team and more infantry.
In the morning the Australians returned with increased allowing them to carry out more work. Warrant Officer Rod Scott organised teams to move through and count the dead. Pools of blood and drag marks indicated the Rwandan soldiers had removed bodies overnight and the RPA prevented Australians looking in huts and latrines where bodies could have been hidden. The Australians counted 4,050 dead before they were stopped. No official estimates from the UN or the Rwandan government have ever matched these numbers.
Lt Tilbrook recalled from the day ” you couldn’t step anywhere without stepping on a body.” Pot shots continued to be taken at Australians on this day as they moved through the IDP camps. The Australians continued to treat and evacuate casualties. As before at times they bandaged unharmed children to get them out.
Tilbrook relates dealing with the RPA throughout the the massacre was extremely dangerous. ” There were other occasions when I needed to move injured people but the RPA wouldn’t allow it, so there would be yet another stand-off with weapons pointing at each other until the RPA stood back and let us what we needed to do. By the end, I was just walking past them and pushing their barrels away, telling them to fuck off and get out of the way, because I was sick of them. I had become numb to them.” A the end of that day Tilbrook handed over to the CO of another platoon and went back to the Australian area to sit down and have a smoke. Finally able to relax delayed stress kicked in. Tilbrook remembers really having to think about how to get back up again. His body simply refused to without his mind firmly concentrating on the task.
The Australian Medical Support Force that had been there during the massacre returned to Kigali that night. Kibeho is a significant moment in Australian military history and means a great many things to different people. Some of the veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. It is hard for them to have stood by with loaded rifles and been unable to stop the killing. Australian Rules of Engagement on UN Missions have changed since UNAMIR II as a result of Kibeho. SAS Medic Jon Church died during the following year in the Black Hawk Training accident. Medals of Gallantry, the first gallantary decoration to Australians since Vietnam, were awarded to WO2 Miller, WO1 Rod Scott, Major Vaughan-Evans and Lt Col Tilbrook. Other awards and commendations were awarded but no group bravery award or citation has been awarded for all 24 personnel. Originally UNAMIR II personnel were awarded the Australian Service Medal with Rwandan Clasp but this was subsequently upgraded to the Australian Active Service Medal with Rwandan Clasp in 2006.
What must be remembered is the following. Thousands of Rwandans were massacred. Australians risking their own lives saved many. Their mere presence let alone their extraordinary actions saved so many. There has been a cost to them for that but they did it and we as Australian should be immensely proud of them. ” I would like to take them all back to Rwanda, as I’ve had the fortune to do, and let them meet some of the survivors whose lives they saved. There might not be many of them, but when you see their faces beaming at you and the gratitude that they had to the Australian soldiers, the love they have for them, you realise it really was worth it.” states the artist and filmmakers George Gittoes who was with the AMSF throughout the massacre.
The next morning some of the members of the Australian Medical Support Force who had been at Kibeho during the massacre took part in the Dawn Service.
It was ANZAC Day.
Trooper Jon Church was killed in the Blackhawk Training Accident in 1996. He was 32 years old.
Corporal Paul Jordan left the Army shortly after Rwanda. He now works for a security firm on high risk jobs in places like Afghanistan and Syria.
Sergeant Terry Pickard was medically discharged with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1997 months short of 20 years service in the Australian Army. He wrote Combat Medic: An Australian’s Eyewitness Account of the Kibeho Massacre which was published in 2008.
Warrant Office Class 2 Andrew Miller MG saw further overseas service in East Timor.
Major Carol Vaughan Evans MG saw further overseas service in East Timor and the Middle East. As late as 2006, she was in the Army Reserves and a Doctor for Careflight. Her main job was at a tertiary hospital.
LtCol Tilbrook MG has seen further overseas service in the Solomon Islands, Israel and Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
Pickard, Terry. 2008. Combat Medic: An Australia’s eyewitness account of the Kibeho Massacre. Big Sky Publishing.
Halloran, Kevin. 2012. Rwanda UNAMIR 1994/95. Big Sky Publishing.
Biedermann, Narelle. 2006. “The Kibeho Massacre, Rwanda.” In Modern Military Heroes: Untold stories of courage and gallantry, written by Narelle Biedermann, 32-84. Milsons Point: Random House Australia.
Northern Territory News. 2015. ” Australian troops remember Kibeho massacre in Rwanda.” Accessed October 20, 2015. http://www.ntnews.com.au/news/northern-territory/australian-troops-remember-kibeho-massacre-in-rwanda/story-fnk0b1zt-1227314070385
Australian War Memorial. 2007. ” Wartime Issue 39 – Bravery Under Fire.” Accessed October 20, 2015. https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/39/bravery/
Big Sky Publishing. 2012. ” Pure Massacre Soldiers Reflect on the Rwandan Massacre – Book Trailer.” Accessed October 15, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ivlWwthB-g
2001. “Rwanda Peacekeepers.” Accessed October 22, 2015. http://www.warriordoc.com/rwanda/bios.htm