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KIGALI: President of Rwanda Paul Kagame and his wife Jeannette Kagame light a remembrance flame surrounded by heads of state and other dignitaries as part of the commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial on April 7, 2024. - AFP
KIGALI: President of Rwanda Paul Kagame and his wife Jeannette Kagame light a remembrance flame surrounded by heads of state and other dignitaries as part of the commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial on April 7, 2024. - AFP
Rwanda marks genocide anniversary
Country starts week of national mourning, remembrance

KIGALI: Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on Sunday said the international community “failed” his country during the 1994 genocide, as he paid tribute to victims 30 years after Hutu extremists tore apart the nation. “Rwanda was completely humbled by the magnitude of our loss. And the lessons we learned are engraved in blood,” Kagame said in Kigali during a solemn ceremony to commemorate a 100-day massacre that claimed the lives of 800,000 people, largely Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.

“It was the international community which failed all of us, whether from contempt or cowardice,” he said, addressing an audience that included several African heads of state and former US president Bill Clinton, who had called the genocide the biggest failure of his administration. In keeping with tradition, the ceremonies on April 7 – the day Hutu militias unleashed the carnage in 1994 – began with Kagame placing wreaths on mass graves and lighting a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are believed to be buried.

The tiny nation has since found its footing under the iron-fisted rule of Kagame, who led the rebel militia which ended the genocide, but the scars of the violence remain, leaving a trail of destruction across Africa’s Great Lakes region. The international community’s failure to intervene has been a cause of lingering shame, with French President Emmanuel Macron expected to release a message on Sunday saying France and its Western and African allies “could have stopped” the bloodshed but lacked the will to do so.

African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said in Kigali that “no one, not even the African Union, can exonerate themselves from their inaction... Let us have the courage to recognize it, and take responsibility for it.” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne and Zionist President Isaac Herzog are among the visiting dignitaries. Rwandans will also stage a march and hold a candlelit vigil in the capital for those killed in the slaughter.

Week of national mourning

Sunday’s events mark the start of a week of national mourning, with Rwanda effectively coming to a standstill and national flags flown at half-mast. Music will not be allowed in public places or on the radio, while sports events and movies are banned from TV broadcasts, unless connected to what has been dubbed “Kwibuka (Remembrance) 30”.

The assassination of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana on the night of April 6, when his plane was shot down over Kigali, triggered the rampage by Hutu extremists and the “Interahamwe” militia. Their victims were shot, beaten or hacked to death in killings fueled by vicious anti-Tutsi propaganda broadcast on TV and radio. At least 250,000 women were raped, according to UN figures. Each year new mass graves are uncovered around the country.

In 2002, Rwanda set up community tribunals where victims heard “confessions” from those who had persecuted them, although rights watchdogs said the system also resulted in miscarriages of justice. Today, Rwandan ID cards do not mention whether a person is Hutu or Tutsi. Secondary school students learn about the genocide as part of a tightly controlled curriculum. The country is home to more than 200 memorials to the genocide, four of which were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list last year.

Fleeing justice

According to Rwanda, hundreds of genocide suspects remain at large, including in neighboring nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. Only 28 have been extradited to Rwanda from around the world. France, one of the top destinations for Rwandans fleeing justice at home, has tried and convicted half a dozen people over their involvement in the killings.

The French government had been a long-standing backer of Habyarimana’s regime, leading to decades of tensions between the two countries. In 2021, Macron acknowledged France’s role in the genocide and its refusal to heed warnings of looming massacres, but stopped short of an official apology. Rwanda’s much larger neighbor the DRC did not send a representative to Sunday’s ceremonies.

Relations between the two countries have sharply worsened in recent years, with Kigali denying allegations that it is arming Tutsi-led M23 rebels in the eastern DRC, and accusing Kinshasa of hosting a Hutu-led militia hostile to Rwanda. — AFP

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