By Vatican News staff writer
This year marks 27 years since the world witnessed the shocking systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of people in the eastern African nation of Rwanda.
An estimated 800,000 to a million people, mostly from the minority Tutsi ethnic group were killed in attacks between 7 April and 15 July, 1994.
The trigger for the violent attacks came on 6 April, 1994 when a plane carrying then-president Juvenal Habyarimana of the Hutu ethnic group, was shot down, killing him and all others on board. Hutu extremists blamed the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), even though the latter denied the accusation. Attacks spurred by ethnic sentiments against the Tutsis began soon after in a systematic campaign of slaughter which lasted for about 100 days.
By early July 1994, RPF forces launched a broad attack to gain control over most of the country, including Kigali, the capital. After its victory, the RPF established a new coalition government.
The genocide has had lasting effects as, in response, millions of people fled Rwanda for their lives into refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighboring countries.
Message from the UN
In a message issued in commemoration of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide, UN secretary-general António Guterres stressed that “we must take a hard look at today’s world and ensure that we heed the lessons of 27 years ago.”
During the 1994 genocide, more than one million people were systematically murdered, he noted. “They were overwhelmingly Tutsi, but also Hutu and others who opposed the genocide.”
Guterres highlighted that on this day in which we honor those who were murdered, we also reflect on the suffering and recognize the resilience of those who survived.
“We saw what happened in Rwanda in 1994, and we know the horrific consequences when hate is allowed to prevail,” the secretary-general said. Therefore, “we must redouble our efforts, and forge a Common Agenda, to renew and reinvigorate our collective actions going forward.”
In doing this, he continued “we must defend human rights and continue to push for policies that fully respect members of society.”
Even today, the secretary-general noted, “people are threatened by extremist groups determined on boosting their ranks through social polarization and political and cultural manipulation” and while the technologies and techniques that the extremists use are evolving, “the vile messages and rhetoric remain the same.”
In this regard, preventing history from repeating itself “requires countering these hate-driven movements that have become a transnational threat.”
Further adding to the situation is the Covid-19 pandemic which “underscores the urgency of addressing deepening divides…further fueling discrimination, social polarization and inequalities – all of which can lead to violence and conflict.”
Rwanda rising from the ashes
The UN secretary-general went on to note that even though Rwanda experienced one of the most painful chapters in modern human history, “its people have rebuilt from the ashes.”
Currently, Rwanda’s women hold more than 60 percent of parliamentary seats, making the country a world leader after suffering unspeakable gender-based violence and discrimination.
Moreover, concluded Guterres, the people of Rwanda “have shown us the power of justice and reconciliation, and the possibility of progress.”