The twentieth anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide was commemorated Monday morning at the Embassy of Rwanda in Brussels. Between April 7 and July 4, 1994, nearly 800,000 people have lost their lives.
Twenty years later, Ambassador Robert Masozera explained that there was still no word to describe the horror. He welcomed, at the same time, the capacity of the Rwandan people to bounce. “Genocide has shown that there is no limit to human cruelty”, he said.
The Rwanda Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda. The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, an ongoing conflict beginning in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). International pressure on the Hutu-led government of Juvénal Habyarimana resulted in a cease-fire in 1993 with a roadmap to implement the Arusha Accords that would create a power-sharing government with the RPF. However, on April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali, killing all on board. Genocidal killings began the following day: soldiers, police and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders, then erected checkpoints and barricades and used Rwandans’ national identity cards to systematically verify their ethnicity and kill Tutsi. These forces recruited or pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects and other weapons to rape, maim and kill their Tutsi neighbors and destroy or steal their property.
The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighboring countries, but also in western public opinion. During these events and in their aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and countries including the United States, Great Britain and Belgium were criticized for their inaction, including failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers, while observers criticized the government of France for alleged support of the genocidal regime after the genocide had begun.
Rwanda is trying to shake off its image associated with the 1994 state-sponsored genocide.The government argues the country is now stable, but large Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi populations continue to live as refugees throughout the region. The week following April 7 is designated an official week of mourning.
The Rwandan Genocide served as the impetus for creating the International Criminal Court to eliminate the need for ad hoc tribunals to prosecute those accused in future incidents of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.