Rwanda marks 30 years since genocide that horrified the world

By Melissa Chemam - RFI

Rwanda has begun 100 days of commemorations to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 people, most of them from the Tutsi ethnic group, were massacred by Hutu militias.

Sunday marks the start of Kwibuka 30 (Remembrance), the sombre 30th commemoration of the genocide, which began on 7 April 1994.

At the Kigali Genocide Memorial, President Paul Kagame – whose Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel army helped to stop the massacres – will deliver a speech and light a flame of remembrance, with some foreign dignitaries in attendance.

They will lay wreaths on the memorial's mass graves, where more than 250,000 victims are believed to be buried.

This year's anniversary marks an important date for Rwanda, according to Phil Clark, professor of international politics at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, who specialises in post-conflict issues.

"The country has had a lot of time to recover from the events," he told RFI English.

"It's a time of reflection, but also a time to look at how far Rwanda has come. The country has completed the justice process and is tackling inequality. We now have a real sense of what the country has done in response."

The high-profile commemorations are also a chance for the government to show its accomplishments, he noted.

"The ceremony is there to highlight its big success," Clark said, "including peace, stability and reconciliation, which includes even the Hutu population." 

Darkest times

Three decades on, the East African nation has rebuilt under Kagame's iron-fisted rule, but the traumatic legacy of the genocide continues to reverberate across the region.

One of the darkest episodes since World War II, the mass slaughter was orchestrated by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi minority.

The tragic events were triggered by the assassination of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana on the night of 6 April 1994. His plane was shot down over Kigali by Hutu extremists and the Interahamwe militia.

The killing started the next day and lasted 100 days, costing the lives of 800,000 people. While most were Tutsis, moderate Hutus were also murdered.

Some were killed by their own neighbours in a surge of incredible violence.

Their victims were shot, beaten or hacked to death in killings fuelled by vicious anti-Tutsi propaganda broadcast on TV and radio.

An estimated 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped, according to UN figures.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly ethnic Hutus fearing reprisal attacks, fled to neighbouring countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, with long-term consequences.

Suspects at large

According to the Rwandan authorities, hundreds of genocide suspects remain at large, including in the DRC and Uganda.

In the decades since, Kagame's government has been accused of arming Tutsi-led rebels in eastern DRC.

Kigali has denied the allegations, but says Tutsis in its larger neighbour are victims of persecution.

Mass graves are still being found in Rwanda to this day.

In 2002, Rwanda set up community tribunals where victims could hear "confessions" from those who had persecuted them.

'Never again'

The international community has been heavily criticised for failing to protect civilians, with the UN sharply reducing its peacekeeping force shortly after the outbreak of the violence.

"This year, we remind ourselves of genocide's rancid root: hate," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a message marking the anniversary.

"To those who would seek to divide us, we must deliver a clear, unequivocal and urgent message: never again."

The UN designated 7 April as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwandan Genocide in 2003.

The UN and the African Union will also organise events for this year's commemorations.

More broadly, thousands of people around the world are expected to participate in memorial services, involving candle lighting and a moment of silence to remember those who died.

A country in mourning

This 7 April marks the beginning of a period of national mourning that lasts until 4 July, known as Liberation Day.

National flags will be flown at half-mast and music is not allowed in public places or on the radio, while sports events and movies are banned from TV broadcasts, unless connected to the commemorations.

Bars, clubs and public leisure facilities will be closed for a week.

The first remembrance was held 10 years after the genocide, in 2004.

Around two-thirds of Rwanda's population was born after the genocide, in a nation eager to move on from its painful history.

"Ever since I was little, Rwanda's story has been one of rebuilding," 27-year-old Roxanne Mudenge told French news agency AFP.

"The scars of the past are still there, but there's a different energy now, a sense of possibility."

(with newswires)