That genocide is often considered to be the fastest genocide in history, with more than 800,000 people murdered in just 100 days. It occurred in 1994 when Hutu extremists in Rwanda began their violent rampage against both moderate Hutus and the minority Tutsis.
It would in no way be exaggerating to say that every person in Rwanda has been affected by the genocide in some way. The past always haunts Rwandans, but during this week especially, orphans think about their lost parents, parents think about their lost children, and survivors think about how they escaped death.
On Monday, Rwanda staged a dramatic re-enactment of the genocide in the Amahoro Stadium in the city of Kigali. Thousands of people showed up to commemorate and remember the genocide. Medical staff and psychologists stood on the sidelines, ready to treat people that were overcome with grief from the memories of the genocide. The sound of screaming and sobbing men and women filled the stadium as they engaged in a rare moment of much-needed emotional release.
The anniversary is not lost on the rest of the world, either. The UN General Assembly in New York City will hold a memorial ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide on April 16.
The words of the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, are especially important during this sensitive time. He told journalists, “If the genocide reveals humanity’s shocking capacity for human cruelty, Rwanda’s choices show its capacity for renewal.”
Rwanda has taken the last 20 years to bring back stability in the country, and in the process brought back more progress and prosperity than ever before. Kagame’s authoritarian-leaning leadership has been credited for tackling social issues in the country and reducing ethnic tensions after the genocide, while at the same time slowly lessening poverty, improving the business industry, welcoming foreign investors, and increasing women’s rights.
The worry, however, is that Rwanda looks as if it is successfully moving on from its traumatic past on paper. Many Rwandans feel that justice is yet to be realized in the country, as many perpetrators of the violence during the genocide still walk free; in many cases they even live in the same neighborhoods that they once terrorized.
Some tensions between Rwanda and the international community still remain. France has yet to acknowledge its role in the genocide, and the genocide itself is often used to cite the weakness of the U.N. in dealing with international events.
The hope is that justice will catch up with the rising improvements in the country and Rwandans will finally be able to live with some sense of peace. This time of reflection also encourages people worldwide to foster diplomacy and pursue equality so that something as horrific as the Rwandan genocide is never experienced again.