Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Rwanda marks 25 years since the start of the genocide

The country begins a week of commemoration and 100 days of mourning to mark the mass slaughter that left a tenth of the population dead

African Union chief Moussa Faki, left, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and his wife Jeannette, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker light a remembrance flame for the 25th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. AFP 
African Union chief Moussa Faki, left, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and his wife Jeannette, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker light a remembrance flame for the 25th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. AFP 

Rwanda begun a week of commemoration and 100 days of mourning on Sunday to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 people dead.

One tenth of the country’s population — mostly Tutsis targeted by Hutu extremists — were killed during a massacre that lasted 100 days, with the trauma still raw and talk of ethnicity still strictly discouraged in the country.

President Paul Kagame will lay a wreath at the Kigali genocide memorial site on Sunday, where more than 250,000 mainly Tutsis are believed to be buried.

“Remembering is necessary because it’s only thanks to looking back at what happened (that we can) ensure that it never happens again,” hairdresser Olive Muhorakeye, 26, who survived the genocide, tole Reuters.

Heads of state from at least 10 countries were expected to attend the ceremony, with Prime Minister Charles Michel attending on behalf of Belgium, a previous colonial ruler of the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron will not attend citing scheduling conflicts, with the country instead represented by Herve Berville, a Tutsi survivor of the genocide who is a member of French parliament.

France has long been accused of supporting the Hutu leadership before and even during the massacres, which has bruised bilateral relations between the countries.

On Friday, Mr Macron ordered a two-year government study into France’s role in the genocide and on Sunday he announced that he wants to declare April 7 as a national day of commemoration.

April 7 is marked annually by the United Nations as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

President Kagame welcomes Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel on Sunday. AFP 
President Kagame welcomes Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel on Sunday. AFP 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the incident “one of the darkest chapters in human history” in a statement issued on the UN website, and called on global political, religious and civil society leaders to reject the rising trend of racism and intolerance.

“As we renew our resolve to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again, we are seeing dangerous trends of rising xenophobia, racism and intolerance in many parts of the world,” he said.

“Particularly troubling is the proliferation of hate speech and incitement to violence. They are an affront to our values, and threaten human rights, social stability and peace.

“Wherever they occur, hate speech and incitement to violence should be identified, confronted and stopped to prevent them leading, as they have in the past, to hate crimes and genocide.”

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the Hutu Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and president Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi was downed by a rocket attack, killing everyone on board.

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Although the perpetrators remain unknown, Hutu extremists blamed a Tutsi rebel group and within hours members of the Rwandan presidential guard began killing Tutsi civilians in retribution.

Coded hate messages were transmitted via the radio, hit lists were handed out to militias and house searches were carried out.

Moderate Hutus and those who opposed the actions were also killed and an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 women were raped.

On Sunday afternoon, around 2,000 people are expected to take part in a “walk to remember” in the capital Kigali from parliament to the national football stadium, and candles will be lit for a night vigil.

Updated: April 7, 2019 03:44 PM

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