Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Belgium must accept “some of the responsibility” for the Rwandan genocide on Sunday. 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the Rwandan genocide.
One of his predecessors, Guy Verhofstdat, made a similar statement 19 years ago. Michel described the massacre as “absolutely horrific” and an “abject crime against humanity”.
“The genocide happened because of the international community’s failure to predict, prevent and stop it. I stand before you on behalf of a country that wants to accept, eye to eye, their part of the responsibility before history”, the head of the federal government said during a speech in Kigali. He was at an event to commemorate 25 years since the start of the genocide, called “Kwibuke 25” (remember 25 years ago in kinyarwanda, the national language).
The event was attended by representatives from African countries and organisations, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Kagame put an end to the genocide when he came to power. Michel quoted his predecessor, Verhofstadt. Verhofstadt “apologised” in April 2000 on behalf of Belgium for the mistakes made, six years after the genocide.
The genocide happened despite the presence of a NATO peace-keeping force made up of 400 Belgian blue helmets. Ten were killed on the 7th of April 1994, when they were charged with protecting the designated Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana (a moderate Hutu). They were serving under the United Nations Rwanda Assistance missions (Minaur). 12 Belgian civilians, co-operators, also died.
In 2000, Verhofstadt spoke of a “dramatic mix of negligence, lack of concern, incompetence, hesitation and mistakes which created the conditions for a never before seen tragedy”.
“So, I stand before you to accept my country’s responsibility, that of Belgian political authorities and soldiers. On behalf of my country, on behalf of my people, I ask your forgiveness”, he said.
Michel quoted a figure of a million “dreams and lives broken” on Sunday. This is the same figure quoted by Rwandan authorities, who said at least a million Rwandans died during the “Tutsi genocide”. The United Nations, however, said there had been “at least 800,000” victims, who were mainly Tutsi and moderate Hutus.
Sunday’s ceremony marks the start of an annual national 100-day commemoration. This is the same length as the genocide itself, which lasted from the 7th of April 1994, the day after the attack that killed Rwandan and Burundian Presidents Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, to the 4th of July. The 4th of July is the date the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the Tutsi rebellion commanded by General Kagame, retook Kigali.