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Eyewitness Testimony: Jean-Philippe Ceppi


We went with a sister, a Catholic sister, we went to a sort of convent in central Kigali and we saw about—probably a hundred of terrified people. And it was under the basement, I think, of a building, and she told us, “Look, these people have been chased away, and they’re terrified and we are trying to hide them, and most of them are Tutsis, and we don’t know... we pray God.” And just as we went out of that place, we heard a group shouting. And there was a young guy, running, panicked, terrified, with three or four guys behind him, chasing him with weapon, with machete. And that guy came and the sister stopped these four guys. She calmed them down. And she touched one of them, on the head here. She said, “My son, it’s going to be okay. Just leave that guy now.” And they went. I’ll never know what happened to that guy. He managed to disappear. But, you know, at that time, it never occurred in my mind if—is that a “genocide” or what? I mean, having seen in a day a pile of four hundred bodies, having seen somebody—bodies lying in the streets being eaten by dogs and having heard the guy from ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] quoting a number of twenty thousand, ten or twenty thousand Tutsis in Kigali, plus an uncertain amount of Tutsis being slaughtered all around the country, for me, was good enough to use this word “genocide.”

Jean-Philippe Ceppi, Journalist, Rwanda

In 1994, Jean-Philippe Ceppi was an independent journalist based in Kenya.

When he heard that the Rwandan president's airplane crashed on April 6, he immediately made his way to Rwanda.

When he arrived just days later in the capital, Kigali, massive killing of Tutsi civilians had already begun. Ceppi gained critical information about the countrywide massacres of Tutsi from Philippe Gaillard of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Ceppi's April 11, 1994, article in the French newspaper Libération marked the first public use of the term genocide to describe the killing in Rwanda. Ceppi was among the few journalists who focused on civilian deaths; most international coverage centered on the evacuation of foreigners and civil war.

Ceppi covered the story throughout the genocide and himself saved the lives of several Tutsi who had been thrown alive into a mass grave. He later wrote about the refugee crisis and war in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He continues to work as a journalist, based in Switzerland.