The international day of reflection

The Economist reported last week, Road out of hell, that in the 13 weeks after 6 April 1994, between 500,000 and 800,000 Rwandans were murdered — the fastest genocide in history — where the killers were armed, not with guns or poison gas, but with farm tools. The Guardian also has an excellent special report, including an interactive guide giving an historical overview of events. The UN has designated tomorrow, 7 April, an International Day of Reflection to mark the 10th anniversary of this horrific episode, and we reflect we might, but some ought to be doing a lot more soul-searching than others.

As a CNN report documents, Rwanda remembers genocide, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, acknowledged last month that he and the UN could have done more to prevent the slaughter. Meanwhile, notwithstanding Bill Clinton’s apology to the Rwandan people in 1998, declassified documents revealed last week that US intelligence officials were using the word “genocide” in Rwanda in 1994 even as officials in Clinton’s administration avoided the word in public for fear it could spark an outcry for action. Then there is the question of French culpability. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who led the rebel army that took power in July 1994 has accused France of “direct” involvement in the genocide, on the grounds it provided weapons and training to those who carried out the killings.

Ten years on, the tragedy continues. People are still dying. The Interahamwe (the group at the forefront of the massacres) often spared women from immediate killing, but kept them to rape, and now the genocide has caught up with these women as they die from AIDS. There are also at least 100,000 children heading some 30,000 households.

One thing to ponder on tomorrow’s day of reflection: if Rwanda had oil, would the story have been different?