Thousands of women were also raped. Sixteen years on from the genocide, the BBC’s Tim Whewell finds the horrors of those months have left their mark on a new generation.
Like 20 000 other Rwandan teenagers, Diane Kayirangwa was born out of the murderous chaos that killed so many in her country in 1994.
Her father was an unknown member of the Interahamwe — the ethnic Hutu militia licensed by the extremist government then in power to eradicate the Tutsi minority.
Her mother, Anastasie, was one of the Tutsi women targeted. She survived — but only just.
To compound her trauma, Anastasie was forced to leave her native village after she was threatened by neighbours who had killed the rest of her family.
Since then, like many other rape victims, she has been unable to find a husband. Instead, she provides for her daughter by buying and selling goods in her slum on the edge of the Rwandan capital Kigali.
But, despite all that she has endured, Anastasie says she has never regretted her decision 16 years ago to keep her daughter.
“There wasn’t even a moment when I didn’t love her. I’ve loved her ever since she was born,” she says.
“My family gave her horrible nicknames like ‘hyena’. But I’ve never wanted anything bad to happen to her.”
One of the most difficult moments, Anastasie recalls, was explaining to her daughter about the circumstances of her birth.
“Diane had already asked me. I told her when she was about 12 years old. She was grown up. I told her when we were alone,” she says.
“It pained her. She cried, she stood up and she moved here and there because of anger.”
But Anastasie managed to convince her daughter that she loved her enough for two parents. “(Then) she asked me if she was Hutu,” Anastasie continues. “I told her that she was not Hutu, she was, rather, Tutsi because she was being cared for by me, because I was persecuted because of my tribe. But today we are all Rwandans because the issue of tribes is over.”
For another mother and victim of rape, who does not want to be named, forming a bond with her child was not quite so easy.
After her son was delivered amid the squalor of a refugee camp, her first thought was to get rid of him down a latrine.
“I didn’t see him as my child. I didn’t love him at all,” she says.
“In him, I saw the image of spears. I saw machetes. I saw very bad things,” she continues.
Like all children born of rape during the Rwandan genocide, her son will soon turn 16. But he doesn’t yet know the circumstances of his birth and knows nothing of his mother’s struggle.
But now, thanks to the support of other survivors of rape, his mother has learned to separate her son from the hatred she feels for those who raped her.
“I saw him as a killer, a son of a killer — but, of course, he was innocent, it wasn’t him who did these things. I found other women who had similar problems as me. I didn’t know that there were others who suffered the same. I thought I was alone,” she says.
“So now I’ve changed. Now he sees that I’m close to him. We go out together. We walk around in Kigali.”
However, she knows that one day she will have to tell her son about what happened. But for now, she has great ambition for him.
“I would like to get a sponsor to help him to get education so that when he grows he will be able help himself and others,” she says.
Whether Rwanda’s children of rape are able to escape its stigma will be, perhaps, a measure of how far the country itself has managed to put its violent past behind it.
For her part, Anastasie is confident her daughter Diane will not be defined by the identity of her father.
“A proverb says, ‘Upbringing is better than being born’. Besides, she is a child born in a different Rwanda. I hope that her future will be good,” she says.
“Memories of 1994 are not brought back by Diane. 1994 is no longer prevailing in me. Instead of remembering 1994, I think what my children would eat — their education. 1994 is no longer in me.” — BBCOnline.