Rwandan Genocide Survivor Recalls Horror

Hid In Tiny Bathroom For Three Months With Six Other Women

This segment was originally broadcast on Dec. 3, 2006. It was updated on June 28, 2007.

The genocide in Rwanda 13 years ago was the most efficient ever carried out. As correspondent Bob Simon reports, 800,000 people were slaughtered in just 100 days.

Rwanda's minority tribe was almost wiped out. Those who managed to survive did so with a combination of courage, cunning and dumb luck. One young, college-educated woman from a remote village told 60 Minutes her incredible and inspiring survivor's tale in 2006
Immaculee Illibagiza told Simon she was finally speaking out in hopes of preventing further atrocities, not only in Rwanda, but in Darfur and other places where massacres loom on the horizon.

In Rwanda, a green and hilly and tranquil looking land, Immaculee saw something in the distance 12 years ago and realized life would never be the same.

"I remember looking up to the hill across the river. And I saw somebody actually with a machete cutting somebody. And we were all like, 'Wow! Something's happening here. They're going to kill us,'" she remembers. "A person like when they're cutting, cutting. And somebody was screaming."

People were screaming all over the country. The genocide had begun. It was extremely low tech - no gas chambers here - just machetes, spears and knives, wielded by Hutus, the majority tribe as they tried to wipe out the minority Tutsis.

There were no organized roundups as there had been in Nazi Germany; Tutsis were slaughtered in their tracks, wherever they were found. The killing fields were everywhere. And when it was over, three out of every four Tutsis in Rwanda had been killed.

When it began, Immaculee's father told her to run to a minister's house three miles away, and to beg him to hide her. The minister was a Hutu, a member of the majority tribe that was killing the Tutsis. But he had been a friend of the family's. And he was a minister.

"And I went to him. I was shaking. I told him 'My father asked me to come here because things are getting really bad in our village,'" she recalls. "And he took me. He said, 'Come, come.'"

He put Immaculee and six other women in a tiny, rarely used bathroom in a remote corner of the house, hidden not only from intruders, but from the minister's large family.

Immaculee and the other tall women sat with their backs against the wall. They pulled the smaller girls down on top of them; they couldn't all move at the same time.

"So, when he took us in the bathroom, I was like, 'Oh my God. I will be saved here. This bathroom is so hidden that we're going to be saved,'" Immaculee explains.

Asked whether she was concerned about the extremely small size of the space, she says, "No. That was another question. I would try to fit in any hole I can just to hide."

Seven women were huddled in a bathroom measuring three feet by four feet, for 91 days. They took turns standing and stretching.

Sometimes, at night, when they couldn't take it anymore, they retreated into a larger room adjacent to the bathroom. But it was more dangerous there: killers lurked just outside the window, so the women couldn't stand up or talk.

"They were searching. They were there all the time," Immaculee remembers. "It was constantly intense. Intense, intense."

Several people had seen the Tutsi women arrive at the pastor's house, but no one had seen them leave, so after a few days, dozens of Hutus stormed the house, hoping to find the women and kill them.

"There's a little window in the bathroom. I went up and I looked through the curtains. And I saw like people running, running, running … inside the house. And we heard them. I can see the spears," Immaculee explains.

"So they come inside," she recalls. "I never been so scared in my life. I remember it was like, life swept out of your body in a second. I became dry instantly. I couldn't even find saliva to swallow."