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The Rwanda genocide: 20 years later

07 April 2014

Adeline, who was 19-years-old in the beginning of the Rwanda genocide, saw her whole family perish when the Interahamwe, the Hutu militia, entered her village and killed any Tutsi that appeared before them.

“Many people were being captured by villagers and brought to the roadblock,” Adeline said. “Soon there were so many women kept aside for rape. This went on for two weeks.”

After being repeatedly raped and beaten by several men, Adeline thought she was to be murdered too. But, her area was liberated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Today, she is now living with HIV.

“We will always remember the more than 800,000 innocent people so brutally murdered as we pay tribute to the bravery and resilience of the survivors,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the 20th Commemoration of the Rwanda Genocide on 7 April.

“Twenty years after the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda, the horror has not diminished,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay in her statement on the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda.

“We must support Rwandan efforts to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights for all, and efforts to move towards reconciliation and rehabilitation,” Pillay said.

In 1994, over a period of 100 days, mostly ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed by Hutu militia and Government forces. The massacres began the day after a plane was shot down as it was about to land in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were on this plane. Ironically, they were returning from peace talks aimed at securing a peace agreement and ceasing the conflict between the Hutu-Government and a Tutsi rebel group. The plane crash triggered the killings.

Like Adeline, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped during the three months. Thousands of Hutu and Tutsi women were left widowed as a result of the conflict. Many of the women who survived are now living with HIV or dying of AIDS. There are currently one million orphans in Rwanda as a result of HIV/AIDS and the genocide in 1994.

Uyisenga was 14-years-old when she found herself being chased by men with sticks and machetes. “I was raped and abused, but still had the courage to keep running,” she said. “You may say I am brave and courageous. Yes, I have looked death in the face, and have paid a shocking price to survive. But in some ways, I was lucky. I did not see my family killed.”

Phillippe was six-years-old when the Interahamwe, the Hutu militia, invaded his home and killed his parents and uncle. He was rescued by a Rwandan Patriotic Front solider and eventually reconnected with an uncle who raised him. At age 26, he has hopes of becoming a construction engineer and has found a bit of peace after speaking with other survivors.

“Many of my friends who survived still have trauma problems; but together we help each other out when we can,” he said. “I would like to see a more stable Rwanda where there is no threat to children.”

In 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established by the United Nations to prosecute people who were responsible in the genocide. At the 2005 World Summit, as an attempt to prevent similar atrocities from happening again, Heads of States and Governments adopted the responsibility to protect. This commitment was intended to protect people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and their incitement.

“We must also reflect, on this day, upon the adequacy of our efforts to resolve current human rights crises, both in their embryonic and their advanced stages, so that we are not doomed to go on repeating the chronic failures of the past,” Pillay said.

A memorial ceremony will be held on 16 April at 6:15 p.m. at the UN Headquarters in New York and webcast live.

Several commemorative events are being held in Rwanda including the laying of wreaths and the lighting of the National Flame of Mourning at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, the National Commemoration at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, and the Walk to Remember from Parliament to Amahoro Stadium.

7 April 2014