By Juanita Beltran / GICJ

The International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda is commemorated on the 7th of April every year. It was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2003 to remember the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. The resolution acknowledged that the Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued a judicial notice concluding that it was of general knowledge that between the 6th of April and the 17th of July 1994, there was a genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsi people (1). Also, it recalls that during the 1994 genocides against the Tusti, Hutu and others who opposed this act were also killed. 

The genocide, which lasted for approximately 100 days, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The violence was initiated by the Hutu-led government and extremist militia groups who sought to eliminate the Tutsi minority from Rwanda. 

Ethnic tensions in Rwanda 

In the early 1990s, Rwanda had a huge agricultural economy and one of the largest population densities in Africa. Around 85% of the population was Hutu, the rest were Tutsi, along with a small number of Twa people. The colonial period in Rwanda was characterised by the Belgian occupation under the League of Nations mandate after World War I. This ruling favoured mostly the minority Tutsis over the Hutus, creating tensions that eventually ended up in violence before Rwanda declared its independence. The Hutus started a revolution causing more than 330,000 Tutsis to leave the country, becoming in the territory itself an even smaller minority.  In 1962 Rwanda declared its independence after a UN-mandated Referendum (2). However, violence continued to escalate and in 1973 a military group came to power putting General Juvenal Habyarimana, who was a moderate Hutu. (3) He created a new political party through which he would govern for almost two decades. In 1990 the excluded Tutsi minority forces (Rwandese Patriotic Front or RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda. The government ordered thousands of arrests and killed hundreds of Tutsis. In 193 Habyarimana agreed to create a transitional government that would include the Tutsi minorities in the government. As a result, extremists Hutus took horrible action to prevent it. 

After a plane crash in Kigali killing Habyarimana and other members from the government, the Rwandan armed forces and Hutu militias began persecuting and killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Violence soon spread to the whole country. Officials encouraged citizens to murder their neighbours in exchange for food, drink, drugs or money (4).

International Response 

The international community during this appalling situation remained unfortunately on the sidelines. The UN Security Council finally agreed in 1993 to assist Rwanda with a mission (UNAMIR). This comprised humanitarian assistance and overall general support for carrying out a peace process. However, the United Nations Security Council voted to withdraw troops sent by the UNAMIR force. They dropped from 2,165 to 270 (5). The unwillingness of member states to respond with the strengthening of the forces left a general climate of disappointment in international organisation's failure to tackle this crisis and prevent the continuing atrocities

In the aftermath of the genocide, by the end of 1996 the Rwandan government began to seek accountability. The delays were mainly because the whereabouts of the suspects were unknown. Additionally the country had lost most of its judicial personnel. The government implemented a participatory justice system known as Gacaca. The outcomes of that process resulted in provisional releases pending trials, causing discontent in the population. 

At the international level the Security Council prepared the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to prosecute persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and neighbouring states. 93 people were eventually charged for serious violations of international humanitarian law in Rwanda in 1994. 

The International Day of Reflection serves as a reminder of the importance of preventing such atrocities from happening in the future. It is also a day to honor the memory of those who lost their lives during the genocide and to pay tribute to the survivors.

On this day, the UN urges all member states to take measures to prevent genocide, to protect vulnerable populations, and to bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice. It is also a time for individuals and communities to reflect on the lessons learned from the genocide and to work towards promoting peace, reconciliation, and healing in Rwanda and other affected countries.

Various commemorative events are held on this day, including candlelight vigils, memorial services, and educational programs. The international community is encouraged to participate in these activities to show their solidarity with the people of Rwanda and to honor the victims of the genocide.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commemorates the victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and stands by the people of Rwanda in its process towards accountability and peace. However, we condemn all forms of ethnic discrimination and violence resulting in a massive spread of killings, torture and disappearances. It is of paramount importance the upholding of human rights in all contexts; for this reason, we urge the international community to timely address its commitments and obligations toward preventing and protecting all citizens from these atrocities. 

International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Tutsis, Hutus, Rwanda Genocide, Genocide Memorial Day, Kwibuka, Never Again, Rwanda, Stop Genocide, Africa, 1994 Genocide, Gacaca, Peace, World Peace, Human Rights, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice, Geneva4Justice, Justice                   


  1. 72nd Session -   Agenda Item 66 (b) Resolution A/72/L.31
  2. Outreach Programme on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the United Nations
  3. Rwandan Genocide - Facts, Response & Trials - HISTORY
  4. Rwandan Genocide - Facts, Response & Trials - HISTORY
  5. Outreach Programme on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the United Nations

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