4 Rwandan genocide memorials recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites

nyamata

UNESCO announced on Wednesday that it had included four memorials dedicated to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which claimed the lives of over 800,000 individuals, predominantly of the Tutsi ethnic group, on its World Heritage list. The organisation made this declaration via a post on X.

These four sites, located at Nyamata, Murambi, Gisozi, and Bisesero, serve as solemn places of remembrance for the large-scale atrocities committed during the genocide. The genocide targeted the Tutsi minority but also claimed the lives of moderate Hutus who were brutally killed by Hutu extremists between April and July 1994.

Yolande Makolo, the spokesperson for the Rwandan government, shared her thoughts on this significant decision, stating, “This historic decision will help safeguard memory, counter denial and strengthen genocide prevention efforts globally. #NeverAgain.”

Visitors to the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Gisozi encounter a sobering display of skulls, bone fragments, torn clothing, and images of piled-up corpses, serving as the final resting place for approximately 250,000 victims. Every year, new graves are discovered throughout the country, with remains also preserved at Nyamata’s former Catholic church, Murambi’s school complex, and the Bisesero memorial erected in 1998. These sites not only contain human remains but also bear witness to the material evidence of the 100-day killing spree by Hutu extremist forces, including spears, machetes, clubs, and bladed weapons.

Furthermore, three of these sites were the locations of massacres themselves. Nyamata, for instance, witnessed the slaughter of more than 45,000 individuals who had sought refuge in the church in a single day. The chapel now houses the clothing and rosaries worn by the victims, as well as the weapons used by the perpetrators. Mass graves are located behind the church, and a vault contains the skulls and other remains of victims.

At Murambi, tens of thousands of people who had been persuaded to seek shelter in the technical school under the pretext of safety were executed in one of the bloodiest episodes of the genocide. Meanwhile, at Bisesero, a memorial pays tribute to Tutsis who resisted with spears and stones while Hutu extremists murdered hundreds in the surrounding hills.

The genocide erupted shortly after the assassination of the Hutu president, with the government blaming Tutsi rebels for the plane attack. It only came to an end when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) assumed control in July 1994, having defeated the Hutu extremists. Genocide suspects have faced trials in Rwanda, a UN tribunal in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, as well as in countries such as France, Belgium, and the United States, among others.

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