Thousands of Rwandans filled the Amahoro Stadium in the capital city of Kigali Monday for a memorial service to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.
On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down over Kigali, unleashing an intense killing campaign orchestrated by the Hutu extremist government. The violence persisted, despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers, until the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi-led rebel group commanded by current President Paul Kagame, took over Kigali in July of that year.
After laying a wreath at the Kigali Genocide Memorial with Kagame Monday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the crowd at the stadium, where UN troops had protected some Rwandans during the slaughter. The secretary general admitted that UN troops didn’t do enough to stop the killing. “We should have done much more,” he said. “In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed,” he added.
The stadium ceremony occurs each year to open Rwanda’s 100-day national remembrance period, but this year, as The New York Times reports, a last-minute diplomatic rupture with France underscored lingering tensions between the two nations. Sunday evening, the French Justice Minister declined to attend the memorial after Kagame reportedly told a French-language magazine that France held some of the blame for the planning and execution of the genocide. France had supported former president Habyarimana and the extremist Hutu regime before the genocide. AFP reports that France’s ambassador to Rwandan was then disinvited from the ceremonies.
Video by AFP
After honoring the victims and praising Rwanda’s strength, Kagame made a couched pass at France, saying his government will continue to search for “concrete explanations” for the genocide. “People cannot be bribed or forced into changing their history and no country is powerful enough — even when they think they are — to change the facts,” Kagame added.
Kagame, a darling of Western donors in the years since the genocide, has been credited with engineering Rwanda’s economic recovery, and criticized for his authoritarian governance – both at home in Rwanda, where mention of ethnic division is forbade, and internationally, for supporting Tusti-backed incursions into the Democratic Republic of Congo. A 2013 UN report implicating Rwanda in the M23 militia’s attacks in Congo led the United States and European states to suspend military aid to Kagame last summer.