UNESCO puts Rwanda genocide memorials on World Heritage list

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced Wednesday that it has designated four of Rwanda’s genocide memorials as World Heritage Sites.

The designation was announced at a session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.

The sites include the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the capital city, the Murambi Genocide Memorial Center in southern Rwanda, the Nyamata Genocide Memorial in eastern Rwanda and the Bisesero Genocide Memorial in western Rwanda, UNESCO said on the social media network X.

According to survivors, each of the sites bears distinctive characteristics showing the cruelty with which genocide victims were ruthlessly massacred.

The Kigali memorial site, the main one in the country, hosts the remains of 250,000 genocide victims found in the streets, houses, and mass graves in Kigali and surrounding areas.

In the Nyamata church in eastern Rwanda, south of Kigali, about 45,000 people who had sought refuge there were massacred in one day.

The building was transformed into a memorial representative of other churches in which the victims of the genocide died, according to UNESCO.

The Bisesero site on the other hand commemorates the resistance led with traditional weapons including spears, machetes and sticks by Tutsi against the genocide perpetrators.

“The historic inscription of the Bisesero, Gisozi, Murambi and Nyamata sites on the World Heritage List increases international visibility and also honors the memory of the victims they represent throughout the world. This recognition strengthens the fight against genocide denial and will serve to educate present and future generations,” Jean-Damascene Bizimana, Rwanda’s Minister of National Unity and Civil Engagement, said in a statement.

Philbert Gakwenzire, the head of Ibuka, an umbrella organization that connects the groups that aid survivors of the genocide, said the move would help enhance the preservation of the memorial sites and increase visits to the sites for people to understand the dangers of genocide.

Since 2012, local communities, national and international experts, and relevant advisory groups collaborated closely in the process that culminated in Wednesday’s status.

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly designated April 7 as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group, which left about 1 million people dead, mostly Tutsi and moderate Hutus, within a span of 100 days.

On Tuesday, UNESCO also inscribed Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park on the World Heritage List, making it the country’s first site to attain such status.

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