The Rwandan Genocide: 20 years later

On April 6th 1994, the private plane of President Juvenal Habyarimana crashed after being shot down. That same day, the Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Colines announced that it was time to exterminate the Tutsis. Cutting “down the tall trees” was the code used by Hutu extremists.

Hence, for nearly 100 days, Hutus massacred Tutsis and moderate Hutus, in what is today regarded as one of the most brutal and shocking genocide in History. In mid-July 1994, it all ended when the forces of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) were able to take the government down through a military offensive.

Now, 20 years later, what can be said of this historic legacy in Rwanda?

Justice took a long time to be made. Not only many Hutus fled to neighboring countries, but also the whole country was devastated by this event. The judicial system was so highly affected that by 2006 it was calculated that to continue providing justice to everyone, it would have taken 110 years more. In 2001, the Gacaca courts were created by the government to speed up justice and engage the communities in the process of transitional justice. In the meantime the United Nations created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in Arusha, with an international mandate to judge and prosecute high-ranking leaders. Many people did their time in jail, but is that enough to reconcile a population?

Hundreds of genocide memorials have been built, reconciliation groups have been created and commemorations are held annually. Every April for the past two decades, rwandan citizens must “Kwibuka”, which means “remember”. The mourning is done at the national level. Remembrance and reconciliation are at the forefront of the rwandan official speech about the genocide.

Nevertheless, the weight of the past is always there. It is the product of a complex reality, of thirst for power and cruelty. It is undeniable that there is still a divide in the society between the victims and the perpetrators. It is still called by the RFP government “The Genocide Against the Tutsi”…

For the rest of the world, the Rwandan genocide continues to represent the failure of the international community to act in periods of great crisis. It is undeniable that it is always hard to justify a foreign intervention in a civil war. But when comes the tipping point – the point in which the world can no longer stand-by and watch – ?… We believe the world still doesn’t know how to answer this question.

This ten year old piece by the BBC gives a chilling account of what this genocide represented for a normal person, that had nothing to do with the forces in command of the genocide. This recent video explains the genocide in 90 seconds.

Two other very interesting pieces have been released. One is a series of “Portraits of Reconciliation” by The New York Times, and the other is yet another very well done piece by the BBC, about “A Good Man in Rwanda”.

(Photo by The New York Times)


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