Survivors and diplomats gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday to remember the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which some 800,000 people were massacred. The observance began with a moving song performed in Kinyarwanda by Marie Claudine Mukamabano, who lost her sister, aunt, uncle and several cousins in the genocide.
They were among some 800,000 minority ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were slaughtered by an extremist Hutu militia during 100 days of massacres that began in April 1994.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Rwandan Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana and his children lit three candles to remember the victims. Those gathered then stood in a moment of silent tribute.
The secretary-general recalled visiting the genocide memorial in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. He said words could not describe his thoughts and that he could not hold back tears for the horror and sorrow that he felt.
"Today is a day to open our eyes to this suffering and honor the memory of those killed in Rwanda 15 years ago," he said. "But for our tribute to be truly meaningful, we must match the resolve of the survivors by renewing our dedication to the causes of justice and peace."
Genocide survivor Jacqueline Murekatete recalled that she was only nine years old when the massacres began. She said she will never forget the horrors of men and women being dragged to their deaths, children at the orphanage where she was staying who had had their arms and legs hacked off by people who had once been their neighbors. Neither could she forget the fate of her parents, six siblings and most of heir extended family.
"They had all been taken to a nearby river where they had been systematically murdered," she said. "Their only crime, of course, that they were Tutsis in a country that believed that being a Tutsi was a crime deserving of death."
Murekatete said it is important not just to remember the dead, but to remember the living who 15 years on still are struggling to heal and rebuild their lives.