“Together, let us commit to remember, unite and renew for the people of Rwanda and for our actions to prevent genocide around the world.” —Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the 20th commemoration of the Rwanda genocide
April 7 has been designated as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda by the United Nations General Assembly.
The Rwandan genocide was a state-sponsored massacre in which some 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, were methodically hunted down and murdered by Rwandan Hutu extremists as the international community refused to intervene.
In 1990 a conflict began between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF was largely composed of Tutsi refugees who had fled to Uganda following previous waves of Hutu violence against them. Because of international pressure on the government led by Juvenal Habyariman, a cease-fire was worked out in 1993, named the Arusha Accords. These Accords were to create a power-sharing government with the RPF.
However, many conservative Hutus, including members of the Akazu, viewed the accord as conceding to enemy demands. At the same time, many Hutus had begun to support the so-called “Hutu Power” ideology which believed that the goal of the RPF was to reinstate the Tutsi monarchy and enslave the Hutus.
On April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying Juvenal Habyariman and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down, killing all on board. The following day, soldiers, police and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders. Checkpoints and barricades were then set up and using Rwanda’s national identity cards to verify ethnicity, Tutsi’s were murdered. Hutu civilians were also recruited to rape, maim and kill their Tutsi neighbors and destroy or steal their property.
The RPF restarted an offensive and rapidly seized control of the northern part of the country. Once they captured Kigali in mid-July, the genocide came to an end. During these events and in their aftermath, the United Nations and countries, including the United States, Great Britain and Belgium were criticized for their inaction.
The genocide has had a lasting impact on Rwanda and neighboring countries. Many people were orphaned and widowed. The infrastructure was decimated. Severe loss of life and flight of Hutus to other countries crippled the economy.
Armed stuggles continue today. RPF-led governmental military fought two Congo Wars, the First in 1996-1997, and the Second 1998-2003.
Rwanda has two public holidays commemorating the genocide. The national commemoration period begins on Genocide Memorial Day on April 7 and concludes with Liberation Day on July 4. The week following April 7 is designated as an official week of mourning.