Rwanda starts a week of official mourning today to mark the 20th anniversary of the country\’s genocide in which at least 800,000 people died.
The flame will burn for 100 days, equal to the amount of time ethnic Hutu militias rampaged across the country in 1994, killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus after the death of Rwanda\’s president in a plane crash.
The UN is still ashamed over its failure to prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said.
He was addressing thousands of people in the capital, Kigali, as Rwanda began a week of official mourning to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide.
Many people were overcome by emotion during the ceremony, with some suffering fits.
Rwanda\’s President Paul Kagame and Ban lit a torch which will burn for 100 days – the length of time the genocide lasted.
President Barack Obama said in a statement marking the anniversary that the genocide was a "deliberate and systematic effort" by humans to destroy other humans. He said when faced with hatred and cruelty, people must remember their shared humanity, choose compassion and "never be indifferent."
Obama also said we must remember the world\’s failure to respond to the situation more quickly.
In the early 1990s, the United Nations had several thousand peacekeepers in Rwanda who have been criticized for their inability or unwillingness to stop the genocide, despite warnings.
In 1999, an independent inquiry ordered by then-U.N. chief Kofi Annan said the inability to prevent or stop the genocide "was a failure by the United Nations system as a whole." The report said member states did not have the will to act with assertiveness, and that there were "serious mistakes" made with the resources that were available to the U.N. mission in Rwanda.
At an international forum on genocide in Kigali on Sunday, Rwanda\’s government reiterated remarks that France played a "direct role" in the genocide.
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said France has "wronged" Rwanda by being partially responsible for the genocide. She said relations between France and Rwanda cannot be repaired if Rwanda has to accept the French version of events.
She echoed Kagame\’s remarks that France and Belgium played what he called a "direct role" in the political preparation for the genocide. The president\’s remarks led France to cancel plans to attend the ceremonies this week.
France has denied any responsibility for the genocide and says the accusations go against the reconciliation process between the two countries.
In Rome, Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, said Sunday he wanted to express his "paternal closeness to the Rwandan people" and encouraged them to continue the process of reconciliation "with determination and hope."
At least 800,000 people – mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus – died at the hands of Hutu extremists in 1994.
Many of the victims were hacked to death with machetes during 100 days of slaughter that began on 6 April 1994, shortly after Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital.
The killings ended in July 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel movement that entered the country from Uganda, marched into Kigali and seized control of the country.