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Twenty Years Later: Remembering the Rwandan Genocide


This week, I’ve been reading a number of articles posted by world news organizations, marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It’s still difficult to wrap my mind around the fact of between 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were slaughtered within the first 100 days, while the world stood by.

The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7, 1994 to mid-July, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed,[1] constituting as much as 20% of the country’s total population and 70% of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police (gendarmerie), government-backed militias including the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, and the Hutu civilian population.

The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, an ongoing conflict beginning in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was largely composed of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda following earlier waves of Hutu violence against the Tutsi. International pressure on the Hutu-led government of Juvénal Habyarimana resulted in a cease-fire in 1993 with a roadmap to implement the Arusha Accords that would create a power-sharing government with the RPF. This agreement displeased many conservative Hutu, including members of the Akazu, who viewed it as conceding to enemy demands. Among the broader Hutu populace, the RPF military campaign had also intensified support for the so-called “Hutu Power” ideology, which portrayed the RPF as an alien force intent on reinstating the Tutsi monarchy and enslaving the Hutus, a prospect met with extreme opposition.

On April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali, killing all on board. Genocidal killings began the following day: soldiers, police and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders, then erected checkpoints and barricades and used Rwandans’ national identity cards to systematically verify their ethnicity and kill Tutsi. These forces recruited or pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects and other weapons to rape, maim and kill their Tutsi neighbors and destroy or steal their property. The breach of the peace agreement led the RPF to restart their offensive and rapidly seize control of the northern part of the country before capturing Kigali in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide. During these events and in their aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and countries including the United States, Great Britain and Belgium were criticized for their inaction, including failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers, while observers criticized the government of France for alleged support of the genocidal regime after the genocide had begun.

The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighboring countries. The pervasive use of war rape caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows… (source)

There was a time I would have believed this impossible, that as the world “grew smaller”, at least in theory, (military and political alliances, economically united, etc) that something like the type of genocide which took place late in the 20th century, could have never occurred: that those nations known as the “world powers” would have stepped in immediately. But that was then….today, I know better. Sometimes I wish I didn’t–know better. Gaining knowledge, even the truth, does not always make one happier. The bible hints at this,

The greater the wisdom, the greater the grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow [Eccl. 1:18]

Guess that’s the basis for the old saying. ‘Ignorance is bliss’. Looked that phrase up and it is suppose to mean “Not knowing is better than knowing and worrying”. I get that. Not being aware of the evil lurking in this world and in the heart of man, can be blissful. For once you are made aware of both, there is no going back to a time of ignorant bliss–another old saying: “you can’t un-see what you’ve seen” or you can’t “un-know what you’ve learned”.

Today, I know man is capable of anything: even ignoring a mass genocide. Something else I’ve learned is mankind is quick to forget which means rarely, if ever, do we learn from the past. Being aware of this  I honestly don’t know how people can live in this world without Jesus. I mean that. Just the thought of not having my Lord and Savior’s Holy Spirit with me every moment of every day, is too unbearable to even consider. 

Enough musing. Sometimes I forget someone may read things I write, and as a result I just start writing down my personal thoughts, like I’m sitting here in my living-room talking to one of my friends…

What I really wanted to share was one of the articles I read about Rwanda: Twenty Years Later. 

This is one such article from  The Washington Post.

KIGALI, Rwanda — Inside two adjacent houses in an upscale area of Rwanda’s capital, the unfinished business of the country’s 1994 genocide unfolds. Members of the Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit work from here to bring to trial dozens of key perpetrators who fled abroad after the killings, some of them to the United States — and 20 years later, there’s still no end in sight.

“In our lifetime we shall continue to pursue them, and those who come after us will continue to pursue them,” said Jean Bosco Mutangana, a Rwandan prosecutor who oversees the endeavor as head of the government’s international crimes unit. “You cannot have reconciliation without real, true justice being done.”

On Monday, Rwanda launched a week of official mourning to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the massacres in which more than 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, died at the hands of Hutu extremists. The events, marked by displays of intense grief, began with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. Later, at Kigali’s main stadium, a flame was lighted that will burn for 100 days — the period covered by the killing sprees.

In the years since the genocide, this tiny East African nation has rebounded: Its economy is surging, poverty has declined, life expectancy has soared and it has been commended for its ongoing effort to achieve social reconciliation. But it has failed to bring to justice all those who led the massacres..

“Justice hasn’t been adequate, especially at the international level,” said Honoré Gatera, manager of the memorial center. “It’s been really a huge failure, mainly for the survivors’ community in Rwanda, to see that after 20 years there are still génocidaires around the world when the court is there for the last 19 years.”

Monday’s ceremonies were full of reminders of this perception that the international community has failed Rwanda. A French representative was noticeably absent after Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused France of involvement in the genocide in an interview with Jeune Afrique, a French-language magazine, last week. France, which was a close ally of the Hutu-led government that was in place before the genocide, in turn accused Kagame of distorting history.

In an address to visiting dignitaries and thousands of Rwandans, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated the United Nations’ remorse that its peacekeepers had failed to stop the genocide. “In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed,” Ban said.

The killings were triggered on April 7, 1994, when a plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana, and Burundi’s Hutu president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down near Kigali’s airport. Within hours, Hutu militias began targeting Tutsis with machetes, clubs and guns. They ordered the country’s Hutu majority via radio programs to exterminate the Tutsi “cockroaches.”

Neighbors attacked neighbors. Teachers killed students. In mixed-ethnicity marriages, husbands handed over wives to be killed. Even churches were not sanctuaries, as several Catholic nuns and priests ordered killings.

Meanwhile, Western nations shied from intervention, as Bill Clinton, president at the time, acknowledged years later in a public apology for American inaction. On Monday, the U.S. delegation to the ceremonies was headed by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on U.S. failures to respond to genocides.

In the two decades since the massacres, Rwanda has drawn both praise and criticism. On the one hand, it can point to its record of economic and social progress. On the other, Kagame has been accused of ruling like a strongman and curbing freedoms. Opponents of the government have been jailed or assassinated, and the United States and other Western powers have slashed development aid over Rwanda’s backing of rebels in neighboring Congo, a charge Kagame has denied.

On the reconciliation of Hutus and Tutsis, the record is mixed. The government has outlawed any speech that creates ethnic tensions; citizens are now encouraged to not refer to themselves as Hutu or Tutsis, but as Rwandans, to emphasize national identity over tribe. Local tribunals known as gacaca — a meld of judicial court and truth and reconciliation commission — have overseen the release of many killers from jail after they confessed their crimes. Today, there are countless examples of offenders living peacefully next to the relatives of those they murdered.

Still, on a deeper level, tensions linger.

“We still have some barriers,” said Edouard Bamporiki, a poet and filmmaker who is also a member of Rwanda’s parliament. “Many Hutu families are still in the process of removing the shame. And there is pain and anger in the families of Tutsis. It’s not easy to forgive.”

Take Egide Nkuranga. His Hutu neighbors slaughtered his mother, elder brother, six nieces and many other relatives, mostly after U.N. peacekeepers left their area. Some of their killers returned a few years ago to his neighborhood after going through a gacaca court. But whenever he sees them, he avoids them. And they, too, walk away when they see him.

“I cannot sit down and share a Coke with my family’s killers,” said Nkuranga, 48, who is the vice president of Ibuka, a genocide survivors association that is seeking reparations from the United Nations. “Maybe it will happen, but not now.”

“Reconciliation for me comes after justice,” he added. “And we still need justice.”

In a report late last month, Human Rights Watch declared efforts by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) a relative success. The court has tried and convicted several senior figures who orchestrated the genocide, including former prime minister Jean Kambanda, former army chief of staff Gen. Augustin Bizimungu and former Defense Ministry chief of staff Col. Théoneste Bagosora.

Where the court has failed, the watchdog group said, is in relation to the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the mostly Tutsi rebel force led by Kagame that quelled the massacres. In doing so, rebels committed some crimes against humanity, the group noted, but not a single case has been prosecuted by the court.

As for the gacaca, where nearly 2 million low-level offenders were tried before the courts ended their work in 2012, Human Rights Watch described the system as having a “mixed legacy.” They were speedy, and attracted immense participation from Rwandans. But many of the trials were unfair, “marred by intimidation, corruption, and flawed decision-making. (full article at link)

10 comments on “Twenty Years Later: Remembering the Rwandan Genocide

  1. This sure is a heartbreaking story, and I can’t imagine the terror for those involved. As I understand it, this conflict spilled over into at least The Congo, and lasted much longer (actually I’m not sure that it’s been entirely resolved). The fighting in The Congo has also involved the Tutsi and Hutu peoples.

    When I was in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I knew three guys from The Congo, and they told me firsthand stories of what they had witnessed and/or experienced. Some of the details were incredible. All three spent time in refugee camps in Tanzania or elsewhere.

    The one guy made it to the US almost a year before his wife and children made it here. The other two were brothers, and after their parents died in the conflict, they traveled on foot for 500 miles with their siblings in order to escape, but three of them didn’t survive. I was tutoring these two brothers in English, when sadly one of them died in a tragic (and bizarre) car accident – exactly two years ago today. Part of their story can be seen in this article:

    http://www.mprnews.org/story/2012/04/13/medard-prosper-fatal-car-accident

    • First, thank you for the link! The young man in the story: I was reading the comments from those who knew him, of how tragic the accident was in light of the previous horror’s he had witnessed and endured. And they were right, it was tragic, but i have to believe, somehow, this young man fulfilled God’s purpose for him. His short life made an impact on those who had the pleasure of meeting him.

      Last week i felt drawn to read the numerous stories i saw concerning Rwanda. Twenty years ago, i can recall how stunned i was when the news came out of what had (and was) happening. Even recall seeing a few photos which drove me to my knees in prayer for all the people involved.

      Twenty years…to some that seems so very long ago, but it’s not really that long ago Adam. People forget so easily. Even tragedy’s like this one. But those who lived through it, as the stories i read pointed out, cannot forget–for them it was like “yesterday”.

      Mans ability to put such things like the Rwanda genocide out of their minds, i think, is why horrors such as this, continue to occur.

      Anyway, thanks for your interest in this story, and commenting. And for the link.

    • You’re welcome, and I’m glad you were able to read the story about Medard. Yes, I also believe that he fulfilled God’s purpose for him. He was a believer and, as the article said, a gifted young man. I enjoyed working with him and his brother, Issa. I was supposed to meet them the next afternoon for an English tutoring session, and I found out what happened when a newspaper headline caught my eye that morning about a young man from the Congo killed on a bridge.

      I believe you’re right about how easily people can forget about tragedies like the one in Rwanda. And I believe you’re also right about this being one of the top reasons why horrors like this continue to occur.

      By the way, I located two BBC articles that seem to do a good job explaining how Rwanda’s war spilled over its borders and continued until much more recently:

      [1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-11108589
      [2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13283212

    • Thanks for the BBC links, i’ll be reading them tonight.

      Medard’s passing must have been very tragic for you personally Adam. I should have acknowledged that in my earlier comment. I was looking at the photo of him last evening and thought “there is someone i would have loved to have known”. Such a happy face….

    • That’s OK. Yes, it was personally tragic. It tore his brother, Issa, up more than anyone, but by God’s grace he is doing fine. Medard was definitely a happy young man.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this Pj, I wondered why there was no comment box and am glad the problem is now sorted as the Rwandan genocide is of particular interest to me. I am very close to a young Rwandan Tutsi lady who miraculously escaped with her little niece despite the rest of their entire family being exterminated. Her testimony is dynamite (the same God of miracles was at work that parted the red sea, closed the mouths of hungry lions etc.etc etc). Immaculee later married a lovely Christain Englishman and they are in Rwanda now working for this reconciliation.

    • Hi Sylvia. I’m so sorry about the comment problem. There is a tiny little box which stays checked (i thought!) allowing comments. Don’t know what happened but it apparently “un-checked” itself one day recently. aha! Going to be keeping an eye on it now, when i post anything new.

      I would LOVE to read your friends testimony! If it’s online anywhere, let me know.

      It was interesting to read, last week, about how the survivors are getting on now. Like i said to Adam, twenty years is actually not a long time. We serve a ‘good God’…i know all those willing to be healed, He will heal! It would be wonderful to hear of a revival breaking out in that part of Africa.

      Lord we pray and ask in Jesus name, for your Holy Spirit to be poured out upon the people of Rwanda. amen

  3. Don’t stop there, PJ, that is praying for Rwanda! Pray for the Congo, and Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and on and on and on! I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Africa. The stories I could tell you are just horrific!

    I’ll share just one today. I have in my library a video of the atrocities done in Serra Leone. On it are people I knew and worked with there. The key is greed! All those countries have as much or more natural resources as the G7 countries and in some cases, much much more! All these countries can be first class countries without major poverty or poor infrastructure, water, sewer, terrible roads and electrical power but can have as much as the first world if only the first world powers would allow it. God has certainly provided these African nations the natural resources and wealth to achieve such first rate life in their country!

    I was diamond mining in Serra Leone. I retained a national Serra Leonine geologist Canadian trained. While in civil practice he was this country’s chief miner of the government of Serra Leone’s diamonds. After the nation privatized he started his own private company and I hired him. Everything was going fine until a convergence of realities. One, I came down with malaria and was rushed back to the States to recover. Two, the Muslims were gaining a foothold in government and it was creating internal strife between the Christians and Muslims. The exploitation of their natural resources was depleting their ability to build up their country so their economies were failing and brought about civil war. Three, an example of this exploitation that causes all civil wars in Africa and other places can be understood by the following story. My geologist was hired to “evaluate” a 283 carat rough diamond found by a lone miner. I have a color photo of this rough diamond as my geologist is giving his professional certification. At this time I was traveling back and forth from Africa, Europe and the United States a lot. The diamond in the “rough” was sold a week after being mined to a merchant in Freetown, Serra Leone for just under $700,000 dollars USD. That merchant sold it a day later to some people in Europe for $1.4 million USD! This stone was cut and polished into a “pear” shaped “D” Flawless Diamond. I just so happened to be in Geneva, Switzerland for training one day by one of the foremost Diamond dealers at the time in the world, an aged Jewish man who befriended me and brought me under his wings; and taught me about diamonds. Our appointment was set for a particular day and I arrived to be told he would be late but he wanted to meet with me so I was to hang around until he arrived. He finally got there and told me he was retained to assay an “important” stone from West Africa. I asked from which country? Serra Leone he said then told me his side of the story. I promptly got the photo of this stone from my bag and showed it to him to his amazement. He didn’t know what I knew about its history and I hadn’t as yet heard his story. The short of the long of this story is and why I say God has enriched these African countries but GREED and exploitation keep them in abject poverty is this story happens all the time in Africa and continues to this day! As I said above a lone miner found this stone and it was a big stone, about 284 carats in weight. He had my geologist assay it, certify its weight and shape, in this case, it was a “shape”, not a “stone” or pointed, nor a cleavage or a flat. It was sold there to a diamond merchant for almost $700,000.00 dollars. The next day someone flew to Freetown and paid cash, about $1.4 million for the stone. It was brought to a cutter in Europe and polished out as a 100.34 carat “Pear” shaped diamond, flawless, D color. After my friend in Geneva was hired to evaluate the stone it was certified by European certification and auctioned at Sotheby’s in Geneva. Someone bought it for about $17,000,000.00 dollars!!!!

    You can do the math! While I was then back in Serra Leone I was introduced to one of the top three leaders of the country. His position was the third from the top, the President. He was the top Parliamentarian of the Government. I told him what I had to tell him about how the first world was raping his country and exploiting their national treasures this way! He acknowledged my point, smiled and then changed the subject! At least I was able to have my voice heard. He was a Muslim and of course I was a Christian.

    The sad reality is this. I blame Christians, myself included, because our work is to get the Gospel into the hearts and minds of those God is calling out of the world making disciples and:::>

    Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    We are not teaching to well the things that make for His Will being done and His Kingdom lived on earth as it is in Heaven!

    Doing this work is not a burden! Jesus said this:

    Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
    29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
    30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    By God’s Grace, as time runs out I believe the Church worldwide will rise up RIGHT WHERE SHE IS, whether in a metropolitan community, or in the back jungles of Africa, or a small village in the French Alps to see the Spirit through the Church, make disciples and do the commandments Jesus wants then finally the end will happen!

    I leave off with this long portion of Scripture that makes my point better:

    Revelation 18:4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues;
    5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
    6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
    7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’
    8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”
    9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning.
    10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”
    11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore,
    12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble,
    13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.
    14 “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!”
    15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,
    16 “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls!
    17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off
    18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?”
    19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste.

    • The short of the long of this story is and why I say God has enriched these African countries but GREED and exploitation keep them in abject poverty is this story happens all the time in Africa and continues to this day

      Always seems to come down to that one word, doesn’t it–Greed.

      And you’re right Michael. We shouldn’t stop with Rwanda but should pray, asking God to pour out His Spirit upon the entire continent. Amen.

      By God’s Grace, as time runs out I believe the Church worldwide will rise up RIGHT WHERE SHE IS, whether in a metropolitan community, or in the back jungles of Africa, or a small village in the French Alps to see the Spirit through the Church, make disciples and do the commandments Jesus wants then finally the end will happen

      Yes, amen. amen!

    • Michael, I’ve heard the same thing, that Africa has the resources to rise above poverty. I’m praying as well that we see that continent released in our lifetimes, along with further spiritual awakening.

      By the way, do you have a personal website of any kind? You have so many interesting experiences and connections, and it would seem good (at least to me) to have some of them written down and available to the public.

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