Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rwanda Remembers and Grieves 1998 Genocide

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Rwanda was marking the anniversary of the 1994 genocide Thursday with the beginning of a week of mourning for the more than 500,000 people who died in a frenzy of killing that remains fresh in the minds of the survivors.

For Catherine Umutoni, 27, April always brings tears and memories of her 13 relatives who were killed by Hutu extremists in 100 days of massacres.

"What did you give to survive until now," she sang while she cried, reciting the lyrics of a song about the genocide.

She is just one of thousands of genocide survivors scarred by the traumatic government-orchestrated pogrom who remains homeless and unemployed with little hope for the future. She has one child, the result of a rape that took place during the massacre of her family. She was spared by her attacker afterward.

"Living with this child is a great test for me, but she is my blood, I have to take care of her," Umutoni said of her daughter.

The genocide started just hours after the president's plane was shot down over Kigali late on April 6, 1994. Hutu militiamen, known as interahamwe, set up roadblocks across Kigali, and on April 7 began hunting down Tutsis and moderate Hutus and killing them.

President Juvenal Habyarimana had been pressed to implement a power-sharing accord with the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front after three years of civil war. The top military leaders of Habyarimana's government put into action a plan to kill all the remaining Tutsis in the country of 7 million. Tutsis made up about 14 percent of the population.

The organizers of the genocide, many of whom have since been convicted at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, used the radio to order Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbors and direct their slaughter.

Umutoni heard her father's name read over the radio on April 7 as an enemy of the state. "To me, the announcement meant the end of my life," she said.

The 5,000 Tutsis in Rwamagana fled their homes and gathered at a Catholic school. The interahamwe came to the school, and killed and raped over several days. Only 200 Tutsis escaped, among them Umutoni.

The main commemoration of the genocide this year will be the reburial on Thursday of 20,000 victims who were dumped in mass graves in Nyakizu district. Every year, the government conducts similar reburials as a gesture to give dignity to those killed.

Gerald Rutazitwa, 43, another survivor, helped exhume the bodies. He lost his father and six brothers, but remains optimistic that new traditional courts will bring a lasting peace to Rwanda.

Human rights groups have criticized the courts for being unprofessional; however, advocates see them as a way to deal with crimes that implicate 10 percent of Rwanda's population. The courts, which will try more than 760,000 people, consist of elected judges who require both victims and alleged perpetrators to give testimony before the entire village.