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Remembering the Rwandan genocide on 4th of July

The world is very much aware that America celebrates their Independence on the 4th of July, but very few know the significance of this date for the people of Rwanda. The 4th of July is Liberation Day; when Rwanda celebrates the end to the horrific Rwandan genocide that claimed over 800,000 lives in 3 terrifying months.

Photo credits: credit Adam Jones Ph.D. – (wikimediacommons)

Between 6 April and 4 July 1994, Hutu extremists slaughtered every Tutsi and moderate Hutu they could find – men, women, and children – while many fled from their homes. Propaganda messages spread over the radio waves and soldiers and police officers forced ordinary citizens to rape and murder their neighbours, friends, and even relatives. Incentivized with food, money, and land, an estimated 200,000 people took part in the killings. Corpses lay piled in the countryside like a load of disposed garbage, and covered with banana leaves to avoid detection from aerial photography.

An eyewitness accounts,

“The river Kagera flows into a steep ravine that forms the natural border between Tanzania and Rwanda … it gathers into its currents huge clumps of elephant grass and numerous small trees. In the late spring of 1994 it was much the same with human corpses. They, too, twisted and turned, rose and dropped and came bouncing over the falls before they found the still water…”

Rwanda’s genocide is an important part of our world heritage. It’s an ugly reminder of how tragic and savage a crime against humanity can be, and how quickly it can happen. You’d think the world would learn a thing or too after the holocaust and Armenian genocides.

What really compounds this horrific story is the fact that the genocide was not kept secret. Despite journalists reporting what was happening on the ground, the international community remained largely on the sidelines during the Rwandan genocide. A UN Security Council vote in April 1994 called for the withdrawal of most of a UN peacekeeping operation (UNAMIR). When reports of the genocide spread, they took another vote in May to send forces into Rwanda, but by the time they arrived in full the genocide had been over for months.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali stated, “The failure of Rwanda is 10 times greater than the failure of Yugoslavia. Because in Yugoslavia the international community was interested, was involved. In Rwanda, nobody was interested.

Customise your own Human rights, History and Culture School Program on Rwandan Genocide History, to uncover more of Rwanda’s fascinating history on the ground.