A Rwandan survivor of the 1994 genocide prays over the bones of genocide victims at a mass grave in Nyamata, Rwanda, April 2004. (file photo)
A Rwandan survivor of the 1994 genocide prays over the bones of genocide victims at a mass grave in Nyamata, Rwanda, April 2004. (file photo)
This past weekend marked the 19th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  On April 6th, Hutu extremists began a killing spree that started with political opponents of the government.  Over the next several days and weeks, the world stood by as the campaign spread to include door to door slaughtering of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the country’s capital, Kigali.  The atrocities continued for 100 days and left approximately 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers dead.

In the aftermath of the massacre, the international community cried out calling it one of the worst human tragedies in history.

Years later, Rwandans continue to live on under the shadow of the genocide. Human rights organizations call for more  to be done to stop present atrocities occurring on the continent -- such as in Darfur and the Democratic republic of Congo.

Carina Tertsakian, is a senior researcher for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.  She noted that the Rwandan genocide was one of the most horrific episodes in recent history -- not only on the African continent, but worldwide.

“You would think that this should send the influence, international responses, to other conflicts in Africa,” she said. “At the time, a lot of people were saying never again.  We can’t let this happen again, yet we have seen in a number of other countries very serious conflicts in which large numbers of civilians have been killed.”

Tertsakian named the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur, Sudan as examples of present day crisis situations.

The Human Rights Watch researcher said it’ll take a while before international policies are put in place to prevent large scale atrocities of this kind.  Tertsakian explained there is no blanket formula that would apply in all cases.

“But one of the important lessons that we can draw from the Rwandan genocide is that we should heed warnings.  In the case of Rwanda, in the months leading up to the genocide in 1994, there were very clear signs that the people in power at that time were mounting a campaign of ethnic persecution of people from the Tutsi ethnic group.  There were very virulent anti-Tutsi messages going out in the media.  There were all kinds of preparations that were underway, and the warning bell was struck by several people, several organizations including our late colleague, Alison Des Forges, who tried desperately to alert not only the US  government but other member states of the UN, but despite this nothing was done until it was far too late,” said Tertsakian.

Tertsakian said 19 years is a short period of time to even think about recovering from such horrors. 

“When you look at other countries and the history of the last few decades, other atrocities that have taken place, not least the holocaust, it takes in my view, at least one or two generations for a country to even begin to recover.  So I think it would be entirely unrealistic to expect Rwanda in 19 years to have got over that,” explained Tersakian.

But she said what has been remarkable in Rwanda since 1994 is that the country has pulled itself back on its feet in many respects.  Tersakian pointed out that Rwanda is a functioning country where the infrastructures have been rebuilt.  She said the country has progressed in economic development.  Tersakian cautions however, while Rwandans have made strides in moving on with their lives, the deeper scars and trauma of the genocide will take much longer to go away.