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How the Rwandan genocide started in 1994

25 years have passed since the Rwandan genocide. We remember it through a series of photographs of one of the darkest moments in the 20th century.

On 6 April 1994, then Rwanda’s and Burundi’s presidents, Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, both from the Hutu ethnic group, died in a mysterious accident. The airplane they were flying on was shot down on its descent into Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, leaving no survivors. The people responsible have never been found, but the most reasonable assumption blamed the Hutu extremists, which were unsatisfied with the peace agreement that had to halt the violence and hatred and let thousands of Tutsis back to Rwanda.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame leads a walk during commemoration services on April 07, 2019 in Kigali, Rwanda. The country is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed over a 100-day period © Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

1 million people were killed in the Rwandan genocide

What happened was used as an excuse to blame the Tutsi rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame and to begin the extermination. On the following day, 7 April 1994, the Rwandan genocide, the most violent and bloody event of the 20th century after Second World War, started. 800,000 to 1,071,000 people (mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group) were killed in 100 days, using machetes, canes and fire arms.

The slaughter ended in mid-July 1994 with the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame, the current president, on the government forces.

The slow progress of justice

After twenty years, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is still looking to convict the accountable, even though it is a delicate and complicated process. In fact, it is not easy to find the executioners as every single person from the Hutu ethnic group had to take part in the slaughter. If they refused to do it, they would have been killed. For this reason, it is estimated that the people involved in the genocide are more than half a million, including instigators and executioners.

People hold candles during a commemoration ceremony of the 1994 genocide on April 07, 2019 at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda. The country is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed over a 100-day period © Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Jean Paul Akayesu, Mayor of Taba at the time of the genocide, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the killings of 2,000 Tutsis seeking refuge in the Town Hall. The same happened to Jean Kambanda, director of the Union of Rwandan popular banks and interim President after the death of Habyarimana, who was accused of taking part directly in the genocide and of not taking action to stop it.

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