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African Union Honors Rwanda Genocide Victims

French investigators examine the wreckage of Juvenal Habyiramana's Dassault Falcon 50 plane that was shot down in 1994, killing the former Rwandan president and triggering genocide in the central African country, September 18, 2010 (file photo)

The African Union held a moment of silence Thursday to mark the 17th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

A lone candle wrapped in purple ribbon burned in the center of the African Union plenary hall as diplomats and dignitaries stood in silence to honor the nearly one million, mostly ethnic Tutsis, who died in 100 days of carnage in Rwanda in 1994.

Rwanda’s AU ambassador Joseph Nsengimana said the ceremony has become an annual tradition in this diplomatic capital to signify that the slaughter was an offense against all Africans.

"The AU is the African organization, and the genocide in Rwanda is not only a crime against Rwanda, it is a crime against humanity Africa comprised," he said. "So afer the genocide, AU like U.N., decided to organize every year a ceremony to remember what happened in Rwanda in a way to take lesson and learn from the experience of Rwanda, to realize, never again.

The killing began April 7, when ethnic Hutus went on a rampage, outraged by the death of Rwanda’s president Juvenal Habyiramana when his plane was shot down over Kigali airport the previous day. During the next three months, an average of 10,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus a day were brutally killed, many hacked to death with machetes.

A French judge blamed the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame and some of his associates for carrying out the attack on President Habyiramana’s plane. At the time, Kagame was leader of a Tutsi rebel group.

Kagame strongly denies the charge, and blames Hutu extremists for the attack.