Accessibility links

Two Decades After Rwandan Genocide, Has the World Learned its Lesson?

FILE - Mike Nkuzumuwami stands by the rows of human skulls and bones that form a memorial to those who died in the redbrick church that was the scene of a massacre during the 1994 genocide.

FILE - Mike Nkuzumuwami stands by the rows of human skulls and bones that form a memorial to those who died in the redbrick church that was the scene of a massacre during the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda on Monday is marking 20 years since the1994 genocide, with the hope that lessons learned can help prevent future atrocities. But as many times as the international community has said "never again," a failure to act has continued to cost lives.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame will light a national flame of mourning Monday in a ceremony at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

The April 7 commemoration marks the anniversary of the day violence broke out across the country, as ethnic Hutu militias killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a 100-day rampage.

Across Rwanda, memorials to the victims display skulls and bones broken by machete blades and bloodied articles of clothing worn by the victims - constant reminders of the brutality that destroyed the nation.

Freddy Mutanguha, a survivor, is the country director of the Aegis Trust, which runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial. He said that with 20 years past, now is the time for the new generation to reflect on the past.

“We remember and we honor our victims each and every year, but it's a very important year because children who are born during or after genocide, they are now growing. It's an important opportunity for them to learn and to understand what happened in this country,” said Mutanguha.

Heads of state and other foreign dignitaries, including officials from the United States, Britain and the East African region, are expected in Kigali for the commemorations.

Mutanguha said it also is a good opportunity for international guests to learn from Rwanda.

“It's very important in terms of genocide prevention because those people will come and they will learn about what happens here so that they can prevent it in their own communities,” said Mutanguha.

In an opinion article timed for the anniversary, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to learn from its failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and to take stronger action to confront modern day crises, like the conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic.

“The international community,” he said, “cannot claim to care about atrocity crimes and then shrink from the commitment of resources and will required to actually prevent them.”

U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda in the early 1990s have been criticized for their inability or unwillingness to stop the genocide, despite warnings.

Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, said the U.N.'s failure in Rwanda prompted a serious moment of reflection.

“I think after Rwanda there was this intense sense in which the international community had to rethink what it means to stand true to those principles embodied in the U.N. charter. So I would like to think that the lesson of Rwanda, the overarching lesson, is to be opposed to the politics of indifference and the politics of inaction,” said Adams.

Meanwhile, recent Rwandan claims of French involvement in the genocide have set back relations between those two countries.

France withdrew a delegation due to attend memorial events this week following remarks by Rwandan President Kagame made to an African news weekly that France played a direct role in the preparation and execution of the genocide.

Paris has long denied the accusation. French foreign affairs spokesman Romain Nadal told VOA the government was surprised by Kagame's remarks, and said they go “against the ongoing process of reconciliation between our two countries.”