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Mourning the Rwandan genocide, 14 years on

© UNICEF video
Children in purple help survivor Eugenie Mukeshimana light a candle in memory of those killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 8 April 2008 – Marking the 14th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last night pledged to step up efforts aimed at stopping such tragedies from happening again.

Mr. Ban stressed that the United Nations – which did not stop the genocide in 1994 – “has a moral duty to act on the lessons of Rwanda.”

“That is why this day is also a call to bolster efforts to prevent another genocide,” he said. “It is a cause I am resolved to pursue, in my time as UN Secretary-General and in the years beyond.”

Hope for future generations

Eugenie Mukeshimana lost her husband and parents in the genocide. Speaking to several hundred people gathered for a memorial ceremony at UN headquarters in New York, she said that survivors feel a deep sense of loss. She added that some mothers in Rwanda today still lack shelter, food and medical care for themselves and their families.

“They are still hoping that the future will be better, not only for them but for future generations,” said Ms. Mukeshimana. “However, we are also concerned that what happened to us is happening now to mothers in Darfur, and it could be happening in the future if we don't pay attention.”

Ms. Mukeshimana, who was pregnant during the genocide and now has a 14-year-old daughter, then lit a candle in memory of the victims, surrounded by nine Rwandan children.

© UNICEF video
In his speech at the 7 April 2008 event marking the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged to work to prevent such atrocities in the future.

Rejecting ‘revisionism’

The killing in Rwanda began after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was mysteriously shot down as it approached the capital, Kigali, on 6 April 1994. The slaughter lasted 100 days, resulting in some 800,000 deaths.

Mr. Ban said he has appointed special advisers to prevent genocide and to protect civilians facing possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Rwanda’s UN Ambassador, Joseph Nsengimana, urged the United Nations to reject attempts at ‘revisionism’ that would deny the genocide.

“We have to give justice to the people who would have celebrated their birthday this year,” said Ms. Mukeshimana. “Also I think there is more effort on the other side from the people who are trying to say that the genocide never happened.”

Children live with the memory

Fourteen years on, the memory of the genocide has not faded. Several capitals around the world held observances to mark the anniversary. At the same time, the spectre of conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan is a fresh reminder of the large-scale suffering caused by unchecked violence.

In Rwanda, reconciliation is an ongoing process, as is meting out justice for the perpetrators and honouring the victims. In that sense, 14 years is hardly a long time, because so much remains to be done.

Speakers at the memorial event asserted that the international community has a role to play in the reconciliation, and in preventing future genocides. That role includes taking care of the children who are now the future of Rwanda.

“There are children who don’t have parents,” said Ms. Mukeshimana. “It’s going to be a very hard situation for them if they don’t have the mentorship from the rest of us. We would need to be there to provide guidance. It’s very hard to grow up without grandparents, without parents, without aunts and uncles.”




7 April 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on the memorial ceremony held at the United Nations in New York to mark the 14th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
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