April 7 marked the solemn anniversary of one of the most tragic chapters in recent history, the 1994 genocidal slaughter of some 800,000 men, women and children in Rwanda. Ceremonies noting the tragedy and honoring the dead were held around the world, including in the United States, where the events of sixteen years ago are still fresh in the minds of many Americans and their leaders.
The sad facts are well known. On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwanda's President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart was shot down as it was preparing to land in the capital, Kigali, when a rocket fired from the ground destroyed it. Both men were killed, setting off a wave of both revenge and ethnic cleansing the next day, as extremist militia and military groups savagely attacked Rwanda's Tutsi minority and many moderate Hutus. President Habyarimana’s political party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide. International peacekeepers withdrew after some of their troops were killed, and the rampage continued for 100 days. When the Hutu forces were defeated by a Tutsi-led rebel group and forced to flee the country, an estimated 800,000 were dead.
Despite this deep sorrow and loss, Rwandans from all walks of life have worked heroically to repair their lives and move forward. Their efforts command the world's respect and deserve its support for their extraordinary political, economic and social rebuilding. The United States is committed to its partnership with Rwanda and will continue to support efforts to promote respect for human rights and sustainable peace in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
As we memorialize the victims of the Rwanda genocide, we remind ourselves that atrocities committed anywhere violate the collective humanity and dignity that we all share.