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Kwibuka 30: Reflections on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda

April 7, 2024, marked thirty years since the beginning of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda, a one hundred day period in which one million Tutsi, moderate Hutu and Twa were killed and a quarter of a million people were sexually assaulted by Hutu extremists. The United Nations, the United States, and other bystanders failed to identify the atrocities as genocide and refused to intervene. Every year, Rwandans observe one hundred days of commemoration, called Kwibuka, which translates to “Remember” in the Kinyarwanda language.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial was founded in Rwanda’s capital city, with help from Aegis Trust, as the center of memory and education. The museum’s exhibits describe the history of Rwanda, from the pre-colonial era to the colonial era, leading up to the Genocide and its aftermath. Outside the building, a quarter of a million people have been laid to rest in mass graves, and an eternal flame burns to honor the victims. There are hundreds of registered memorials throughout the country, including the Nyamata Genocide Memorial, a former Catholic church that is the site of a massacre. Ten thousand people were murdered on the premises, and over 45,000 people from the surrounding area are buried here. Tragically, many victims had sought refuge in churches – sacred places they believed would keep them safe from the killers. Rwanda’s public memory is very different from the United States. Their sites of conscience have been preserved almost exactly how they were discovered. The interior of Nyamata Genocide Memorial is damaged from grenade shrapnel and stained with blood. The clothing, belongings, and remains of the victims are displayed on wooden pews and glass cases. 

In the wake of the Genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and a community court system called Gacaca were established to address the overwhelming number of trials. More than 120,000 Rwandans have been convicted of genocide-related crimes. One of the goals of Rwanda’s prison system is to reintegrate inmates back into society. The Rwanda Correctional Service reports that among the general population, the rate of recidivism is six percent, and among the perpetrators of genocide, the rate of recidivism is zero percent. Mbyo Unity and Reconciliation Village is one of eight villages that are supported by Prison Fellowship Rwanda and the Government of Rwanda. Mbyo is inhabited by survivors and rehabilitated perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, and their descendants, as a form of restorative justice. Survivors and perpetrators live alongside each other, give their testimonies to visitors, and work with social workers and religious leaders to build trust again. Forgiveness, a core value of reconciliation in Rwanda, is a nonlinear process that is encouraged but not forced.  

Aegis Trust began the pilot for Peace and Values Education in 2008 at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, and by 2016, it was integrated into Rwanda’s national competency-based curriculum. Peace and Values Education uses story-telling methodology to educate students about Rwandan history, genocide studies, and peacebuilding. The “Continuum of Violence” by Ervin Staub and the “Continuum of Benevolence” by Thomas Vincent Flores are two essential frameworks of the program. Peace and Values Education involves the participation of teachers, parents, and youth as a community-centered approach. Aegis Trust trains in-service teachers how to implement the program within their classrooms. An online platform called the Ubumuntu Digital Platform was created to reach thousands of teachers across the country. Parents can attend workshops to learn about conflict resolution within their home and skills for discussing Rwanda’s history with their children. Young people under the age of thirty – a large percentage of Rwanda’s current population – can apply for leadership roles in their communities to promote peacebuilding and receive professional training in mass atrocity prevention. 

Thirty years after the horrors of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, Rwanda has made leaps and bounds towards memorialization, reconciliation, and education, which encapsulates the theme of Kwibuka: “Remember. Unite. Renew.” However, Rwandans know there is much healing and work to be done in the years to come. According to the New Times, a Rwandan newspaper, many survivors live with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of those who experienced sexual violence, a common weapon of genocide, are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Many perpetrators are still withholding the locations of their victims – hundreds of remains are being discovered by accident – which impedes survivors’ ability to find closure and provide their loved ones with dignified burials. Amid growing awareness and de-stigmatization of mental health, descendants of survivors and perpetrators report generational trauma and shame regarding their relatives’ experiences and crimes. Rwandans in the diaspora are combatting revision and denial in the United States, which has yet to recognize the formal title of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. United States officials continue to refer to it as the “Rwandan Genocide,” which erases the primary victims: the Tutsi people. 

As we reflect on the tragedy and legacy of this genocide, we must remember to uphold our responsibility to prevent and respond to atrocities wherever they occur.

To learn more, you can read Anne-Sophie’s travel log about her visit to Rwanda in June of 2023 with the Anne Frank Project at Buffalo State University.