As the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide draws near, there has been much reflection on the events that have transpired and the lessons learned from the atrocity. The Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit, which is a special task force that works from Rwanda to locate and bring to justice key war crime perpetrators who fled abroad after the killings to various regions of the globe including the United States. This elite unit has continued its efforts to track, locate, and apprehend war crime offenders from the Rwandan genocide. Despite the passage of time, 20 years later, the task has proven very challenging and many criminal remain elusive and at large.
Rwanda launched a week-long period of official mourning on Monday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in which more than 800,000 people, primarily ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were mutilated at the hands of Hutu extremists over the 100 days massacre. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, which was constructed in memorial to the lives lost during the purge, served as a gathering point where events commenced with a wreath-laying ceremony. This ceremony was followed by a flame-lighting ceremony at Kigali’s main stadium where the memorial flame will burn for 100 days to acknowledge the period covered by the killing sprees.
The events that led to the massacre were instigated in April of 1994 when a plane carrying Rwanda’s two Hutu counterpart presidents was shot down near Kigali’s airport. Chaos and bloodshed erupted as Hutu militias armed themselves and began targeting Tutsis. They ordered the country’s Hutu majority via radio programs to exterminate the Tutsis. Neighbors and friends soon became enemies and no one was safe from harm. Additionally, teachers killed students and it was common for husbands to hand over their wives to be killed. Moreover, even the churches were not sanctuaries, as several Catholic nuns and priests ordered killings of longtime parishioners and innocent victims.
As the East African nation mourns and reflects on the events that occurred and lessons learned during the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago, its ability to persevere and forge ahead should also be acknowledged. The nation’s economy is surging, poverty has declined, and life expectancy among inhabitants has soared. Additionally, Rwanda has also been commended for its ongoing effort to achieve social reconciliation. Yet, despite its areas of progress, the nation has failed to bring to justice all those ringleaders responsible for the massacres, much like the decades-long hunt for the Nazi leaders who planned and carried out the Holocaust. Moreover, an international tribunal was created in 1995 to adjudicate the war crimes killers known as génocidaires. However, to date, only 49 convictions out of 95 indictments have been successfully prosecuted.
The survivors’ community in Rwanda are particularly disheartened to see that after 20 years there are still nearly half the indicted génocidaires at large around the world, despite the formation of the tribunal court 19 years ago. Monday’s ceremonies were full of reminders of this perception that the international community has failed Rwanda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused both France and Belgium last week of direct involvement in the Rwandan genocide in an interview with Jeune Afrique, which is a French-language magazine. In response, France, which was a close ally of the Hutu-led government that was in place before the genocide, fired back and accused Kagame of distorting history. Furthermore, France contends that Kagame’s recent statements have negatively impacted reconciliation efforts between the two nations and announced that the French justice minister would not attend Monday’s commemorations in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.
In the two decades that have followed the genocide, Rwanda has drawn both praise and criticism. On the one hand, there is its record of economic and social progress. On the other, Kagame has been accused of totalitarian rule and curbing freedoms of the Rwandan citizens. Opponents of the government have been jailed or assassinated, and the United States and other Western powers have imposed sanctions over Rwanda’s alleged backing of rebels in neighboring Congo.
The Rwandan genocide that occurred 20 years ago has the nation and the global community reflecting on the events that occurred and lessons learned during the 100 days massacre. In an address to visiting dignitaries and thousands of Rwandans, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon publicly stated the United Nations’ remorse and acknowledged the neglectful actions taken that prevented its peacekeepers from failing to stop the genocide. Additionally, the U.N. apologized for its mistake in removing much-needed troops from the region during the time of the genocide. Moreover, Western nations also avoided intervention at the time. Former President Bill Clinton later acknowledged America’s inaction via a public apology. On Monday, the U.S. delegation to the ceremonies was headed by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author for her book on U.S. failures to respond to genocides.
By Leigh Haugh