Machete Season

The Killers In Rwanda Speak, Jean Hatzfeld, FSG.


The genocide in Rwanda—in which Hutus massacred more than 800,000 Tutsis in the spring of 1994—has already been well documented. But “Machete Season” is unique because it delivers the story from the perspective of those who did the killing. Jean Hatzfeld, chief foreign correspondent for the independent newspaper Libération, interviewed ten men punished for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, and “Machete Season” is a compilation of these astonishing first-person narratives.

What makes the killers’ words so remarkable and shocking is how casually these individuals approached the business of murdering their countrymen. It quickly became a routine, another day at the office, if you will: “We would wake up, wash, eat, relieve ourselves, call to our neighbors, and go off in small scouting parties,” says Alphonse Hitiyaremye. The “work” was considered more difficult than farming, but also more satisfying. “We can’t say we missed the fields. Killing was a demanding but more gratifying activity. The proof? No one ever asked permission [from the leaders] to clear brush in his field,” notes Pio Mutungirehe. Leadership roles were assigned to those “who gave orders [to kill] without hesitation and strode eagerly along,” begins Adalbert Munzigura. “I made myself the leader for all the residents of Kibungo. Previously I was leader of the church choir…[so] the residents approved me without a hitch.” 

Reading through the narratives one wonders about the fate of these men. Were they imprisoned? Tortured? Sentenced to death for their crimes? In the final chapter (“The Killers”), Hatzfeld provides the answers with a biographical sketch of each individual. The author even managed to assemble nine of his ten subjects in a garden to pose for a group photograph (how nice of them!), so the reader can put a face with each atrocity-filled story. One might expect to see angry, bitter, tortured souls, but they appear a rather ordinary and agreeable gang. The killers were genocidal by day and family men by night, and when the bloodshed came to an end they felt remorse only for their inability to eradicate the Tutsis. “Some offenders claim that we changed into wild animals, that we were blinded by ferocity. That is a trick to sidetrack the truth,” begins Hitiyaremye. “We went about all sorts of human business without a care in the world. At the end of that season…we were so disappointed we had failed.”