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Rwanda genocide 20th anniversary: the Order of Malta remembers victims and survivors

Minister for Humanitarian Action recounts the Order’s involvement and calls for an international role of prevention

Rome, 3 April 2014

Rwandan children at an Order of Malta refugee camp, DR Congo

Rwandan children at an Order of Malta refugee camp, DR Congo

‘Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide is an important occasion to reflect on the pivotal role the international community must play in preventing such dreadful crimes,’ states the Order’s Minister for Health and Humanitarian Affairs, Grand Hospitaller Albrecht von Boeselager.

‘The Order of Malta will continue to play its role, thanks to its independent, apolitical and neutral nature to build bridges of understanding and dialogue,’ says Boeselager, drawing attention to the importance of humanitarian diplomacy in facing the challenges of the 21st century. 

Humanitarian aid from the Order

The first teams of the Order of Malta arrived in northern Rwanda in the region of Byumba shortly after the massacre started. Medical emergency relief was provided for over five months to about 30,000 internally displaced persons in three different camps. In the district of Kiziguro, north of Kigali, in November 1994 staff from the Order of Malta started the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the local medical facilities, including the district hospital in Kiziguro and seven destroyed health centres. In addition basic health care was provided to about 150,000 inhabitants. The Order* began its work in the regions of Goma and Bukavu in the DR Congo where 1.3 million Rwandan refugees had fled. Here between the end of July 1994 and January 1995 Order of Malta teams worked to re-establish water plants and provide medical emergency relief and basic health care to the refugees. From November 1996 to February 1997, due to fighting between Congolese army and Hutu rebels, more than a million Rwandan refugees were forced to flee the camps in DR Congo and Tanzania. Order of Malta volunteers provided water supplies for the refugees returning to Rwanda. 

Rwanda: the background

In April 1994, members of the Hutu majority in Rwanda organised and implemented the mass slaughter of the Tutsi minority. In just 100 days over 800,000 Tutsi were slaughtered – 10,000 killed each day, 7 every minute. The genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. 

The Order today in Africa

‘Today we commemorate the victims of Africa’s greatest genocide in modern history and pay tribute to those who survived and still bear the consequences, both physical and psychological, of this atrocity,’ Boeselager declares. ‘While condemning every act of violence, the Order of Malta remains present in more than 30 African countries – including Central African Republic and South Sudan – working to provide medical and humanitarian assistance in accordance with its thousand years of caring for those in need.’ 

The Sovereign Order of Malta recently nominated its own permanent representative to the African Union. 

* In 2005 the Emergency Corps of the Order of Malta, ECOM, developed into the worldwide relief agency of the Order of Malta, Malteser International. 

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The mission of the Order of Malta is inspired by its tradition of ‘Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum', to assist the poor and the sick, and bear witness to the Christian faith.


The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law. The Order - which is based in Rome, in via Condotti - has its own Government, an independent magistracy, and bilateral diplomatic relations with 110 countries.


The Order of St John of Jerusalem is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilisation. Present in Palestine in around 1048, it is a lay religious Order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature.