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16 years on from the Rwanda genocide

Sixteen years ago, over 3 months, 800,000 people died in the Rwandan genocide. The systematic murder of those people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, began after a plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down near the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Soldiers, armed attackers, and civilians belonging to the dominant ethnic group, the Hutu, set upon Tutsi civilians and attempted to eliminate them altogether. Ill feeling between the two groups, fuelled by successive governments, had been evident for many years. The international community ignored warnings of what was to come and did little to intervene when the killings began.

Machetes used during the Rwanda genocide, where more than 800,000 people were killed in 1994 © UN photoSpeaking at a commemorative event held annually in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay spoke of the progress that has been made in Rwanda in the years since the genocide: the new constitution, advances in women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty. “The people of Rwanda,” she said, “emerged from a nightmare and chose a path of recovery and reconciliation that offers hope to future generations.”

Pillay served a total of eight years on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, first as a judge, for four years from 1995 and then as President from 1999 until 2003.

9 April 2010