What triggered the most hideous bloodshed in Rwanda 20 year ago was the shot down of a plane carrying Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana.
That was on April 6, 1994. Habyarimana wasn’t the only victim. His counterpart from Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira and others on board were also unlucky.
An investigation panel was launched to unveil the faces of people behind the atrocity. But 20 years after the incidence, the identity of the persons or group who fired upon the plane is still unknown.
There was accusations and counter-accusation among the two major groups: Hutu and Tutsi. Hutu extremists were originally thought to have been responsible; later there were allegations that Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR) leaders were responsible.
The next day, specifically April 7, 1994, Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu, was also assassinated.
Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame (L) and First Lady Janet Kagame light a flame that will burn for 100 days, the length of time it took government soldiers and “Hutu power” militiamen to carry out their plan to wipe out the “Inyenzi.” PHOTO: AFP
The author of Rwanda and Burundi, Professor René Lemarchand, says “Her murder was part of a campaign to eliminate moderate Hutu or Tutsi politicians, with the goal of creating a political vacuum and thus allowing for the formation of the interim government of Hutu extremists that was inaugurated on April 9.”
The wave of anarchy and mass killings continued unabated, in which the army and Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe (“Those Who Attack Together”) and Impuzamugambi (“Those Who Have the Same Goal”) played a central role.
The Tutsi-led FPR resumed their fight and were able to forcefully secure most of the country by early July. In spite of the unstable peace in the land, a transitional government was established, with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and Paul Kegame, a Tutsi, as vice president.
By the time the wind whirl settled, specific number of civilians, majorly Tutsi, killed were unknown. Some investigators said more than 800,000 were killed; while others put the figure at over 1 million.
People gathered inside a church on Sunday before the start of a national mourning period commemorating the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide. Credit Simon Maina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), established by the United Nations Security Council began its first cases of trial in 1995
In 2001 the government proposed trying the majority of cases through the traditional gacaca legal system; the gacaca courts were inaugurated in 2002 and began operating in phases over the next several years. The government also periodically granted mass amnesty to prisoners accused of lesser crimes.
In 2004 a report commissioned by French Judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere indicted President Kagame and FPR leaders of their involvement in the attack that caused the 1994 plane crash that killed Habyarimana and triggered the genocide. The report was leaked by a newspaper.
Kagame vehemently denied the allegations and Rwanda severed relations with France in 2006 when Bruguière signed international arrest warrants for several of Kagame’s close associates for their alleged roles in the plane crash and requested that Kagame stand trial at the ICTR.
As before, Kagame denied having anything to do with the crash. He also alleged that the French government armed and advised the rebels responsible for the genocide.
Later that year Rwanda established a commission to investigate France’s role in the genocide. In October 2007 the Rwandan government launched a formal investigation into the 1994 plane crash.
Recovery efforts were aided in 2006, when significant debt relief was granted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and in 2007.
Rwanda has been able to move on after the genocide. But “Who killed President Habyarimana?” will be asked until those responsible are made public.