News / Africa

Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide Brings Declarations, Warnings

A candlelight display is seen from the air, during a ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide at Amahoro Peace Stadium, Kigali, Rwanda (File Photo)
A candlelight display is seen from the air, during a ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide at Amahoro Peace Stadium, Kigali, Rwanda (File Photo)

Rwanda is approaching the anniversary of one of the worst genocides in modern history that killed almost one million people. Officials stress that what happened 17 years ago must never happen again in Rwanda, the rest of Africa, and the world. 

April 7, 1994 was the first day of a 100-day initiative led by one of Rwanda's three ethnic groups to exterminate another ethnic group. Almost one million people were killed by friends, neighbors and strangers influenced by a massive propaganda campaign.

Ever since then, a United Nations tribunal has been bringing those responsible to trial and has jailed 49 of the top politicians, businesspeople, media personalities and others involved with the genocide.

A further 1.5 million people who were charged with killing or looking the other way when murders were occurring have had their cases heard by community courts around the country.

Rwandan Ambassador to Kenya George William Kayonga says he thinks these and other justice initiatives have brought about much forgiveness, reconciliation and healing in Rwanda, while sending a strong signal.

"The country will not condone impunity. For genocide to have taken place in Rwanda it was because the population came to believe that they could get away with anything, even killing somebody and you are aware that nothing will happen to you and you will not be punished for it," said Kayonga.

Kayonga says he has seen signs that the extermination campaign that happened in Rwanda is also brewing elsewhere.

One notable example occurred in nearby Kenya. During the country's post-election violence, at least 1,000 people were killed largely based on their ethnicity.

Roland Amoussouga is spokesperson for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

"In 2007 [and] early 2008, everybody got scared to see a repetition of Rwanda," said Amoussouga. "Having been involved in dealing with genocide since July 1994, I got scared. The machetes that I saw on TV reminded me so much about Rwanda."

Six suspects, including three Kenyan government ministers, alleged to have organized the violence, are now in The Hague awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court.

Amoussouga says the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or ICTR, has taught the world that no one is above the law, particularly with the trial of Rwanda’s then-Prime Minister Jean Kambanda.

"The message was that, if a prime minister can be arrested and prosecuted, therefore all of us we can be the same. That led to the subsequent arrest of [former Yugoslav president Slobodan] Milosovic and led to the arrest of [former Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet in England," added Amoussouga.

The ICTR is set to wrap up trials by the end of this year.

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