Rwandans returning home as UN prepares to observe 10th anniversary of genocide

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it and Rwanda have signed tripartite agreements with many African governments on the voluntary return of Rwandan refugees. “The process of convincing all Rwandan refugees to come home is still going on,” the agency says.The UN declared 7 April the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda to remember the mostly Tutsi and moderate Hutu Rwandans killed by their Hutu countrymen. The Rwandan Government recently estimated the death toll at 937,000.Among the events scheduled for Wednesday will be a worldwide minute of silence observed in memory of the victims. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser for Africa, Ibrahim Gambari, will represent the UN at ceremonies in the Rwandan capital Kigali, while Mr. Annan will address a special commemorative meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the prevention of genocide in Geneva.In New York, staff from UN Headquarters will march in a circle in front of the UN Secretariat building and observe a minute of silence at the Japanese Garden near the Peace Bell donated by the Government of Japan. The UN General Assembly will also convene a meeting and the UN will host a high-level discussion panel.During the 100-day genocide, refugee camps in neighbouring countries grew to the size of major cities, UNCHR says. There were 200,000 people at Kibumba, in what was then eastern Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and nearly 500,000 refugees in camps in western Tanzania.The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) notes that ethnic and regional quotas have been abolished by the Government of National Unity, but the country bears a heavy burden to provide care for hundreds of thousands of children affected by war, genocide and HIV/AIDS. The genocide orphaned some 95,000 children.“The children of Rwanda witnessed unspeakable violence,” says UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “Tens of thousands lost their mothers and fathers. Thousands were victims of horrific brutality and rape. The impact of the tragedy simply cannot be overstated.”Thousands of children, some as young as 7, were forced into military operations and compelled to commit violent acts against their will. Many of them were then jailed for these atrocities.Major gaps exist in the provision of psychosocial care services and peace education, UNICEF says.In the settlement of Buremera, where UNHCR built houses for returnees, as well as for vulnerable local citizens, Deocratien Kadeyi, 66, a Tutsi man who survived by fleeing his village and sleeping under banana leaves for five days, says reconciliation has taken hold in the hearts of Rwandans, nonetheless. “Several years ago we started to forget what happened.”At the Gikongoro Memorial, where the preserved bodies of genocide victims bear mute witness to the horrific ways in which they died, Emmanuel Murangira haltingly tells the story of how he lost 50 members of his extended family.Asked if Rwanda could experience another genocide, he eventually says: “I don’t fear another genocide. The genocide was carried out by people. If they understand it’s a bad thing, they are not going to repeat it.”Photo Gallery: – Collection on peacekeeping in 1994- Exhibit at UN Headquarters read more