Ambassador’s Remarks – 23rd Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi

 

  • Excellency Ambassador to African Union, Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Department of State, Mr. Peter Barlerin
  • Excellency Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps,
  • President of the Rwandan American Community in DMV,
  • Panelists
  • Master of Ceremony, Dr. Zachary Kaufman
  • Mr. Marcel Mutsindashyaka, our courageous survivor,
  • Excellences, distinguished guests,
  • Dear Friends of Rwanda and Compatriots

On behalf of the government of Rwanda, the Rwandan community here in the United States, and the Embassy staff, please allow me to thank you all for coming to show solidarity with Rwandans on this important day of remembrance.

We are humbled that you have accepted our invitation amid many other commitments you have.

In particular, we offer thanks to representatives of several countries who are here with us today. We thrive on your unwavering support — a comforting reminder that we are not in this alone.

This is also an opportunity for Rwandans to express our gratitude to the people and government of the United States, which has been a true partner over two decades of post-genocide reconstruction. We trust that our relationship will continue to flourish.

I thank our distinguished speakers today for sharing their knowledge on various aspects of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. Through Marcel’s testimony, we all caught a glimpse of what survivors endured during those dark days, and the stories of Marcel and Liliane are glowing testament to the fact that dawn follows even in the darkest night and that hope can transcend fear.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year we are putting emphasis on the progress that we have made as a country, and how we can continue to build upon what we have, to ensure a bright future for Rwanda.

When you cast your eyes at Rwanda in 2017, you will see hope wherever you look. When you meet Rwandans today, you will soon discover they cherish dreams for themselves and their families that would have seemed unimaginable just 23 years ago.

Today we commemorate one of the most atrocious crimes ever committed, but we also ask you to look at what we accomplished in the decades since.

I could list any number of impressive facts and figures about Rwanda’s economic progress or development milestones, but no statistic can convey the energy, creativity, resilience and drive of the Rwandan people. If you have yet to see it for yourself, I urge you to visit. If you have been to Rwanda, visit again and experience the speed of progress in the last few years. The excitement is palpable.

As excited as we are for the future, in Rwanda we place the act of memory at the heart of our civic life. It is a national project aimed at reckoning honestly with our past.

Each April 7th, the day when persecution against Rwanda’s Tutsis exploded into full-blown genocide, our nation mourns as one. For the three months that follow, schools, government agencies, the private sector and civil society, each engage in dialogue aimed at gaining greater understanding of the forces that wreaked such havoc on Rwanda. It can be a difficult time, not least for the hundreds of thousands of survivors for whom the annual commemoration is both profoundly necessary and deeply wrenching.

Remembering is never easy — but forgetting offers false comfort, and brings even greater risk.  By consigning tragedy to the dustbin — to fail to grapple with its meaning — we set the stage for its reemergence.

In the aftermath of genocide, Rwanda was a failed state.

One million dead.

Two million perpetrators.

No government. No functioning police force. No courts. No institution was spared. Church, family… they were all in disarray. Bodies littered the streets, mass graves punctuated the landscape.

The economy had shuddered to a halt, and many of the country’s financial elites had joined the genocidal regime in abandoning the country altogether.

Meanwhile, the genocidal forces of now located in refugee camps in neighboring countries, sat poised to finish the job.  At the time, Rwanda seemed destined to become a permanent UN protectorate at best or — more likely — a perpetual war zone.

If you had asked me then whether the country would re-emerge as a functioning nation-state, I would probably have smiled at the naïveté of the question. It didn’t seem likely, to say the least. Chaos and conflict seemed infinitely more probable.

As the liberating force set about rebuilding Rwanda, they had no roadmap. There was no historical precedent to help guide them in picking up the pieces. No country had endured what we had. Nowhere had such industrial-scale slaughter taken place on such a scale, and over such a short period of time.

So how do you even begin the process of not merely rebuilding Rwanda, but reinventing it as a unified, peace-loving nation?

Well, firstly it began with explicit acknowledgement that it was up to us. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said in his acceptance speech, “a destruction only man can provoke, only man can prevent”.  We took it a step further to add; “only Rwandans can fix this”.

This was not a rejection of help from outside — many NGOs and foreign governments gave us considerable assistance — and nor does it stem from any nationalistic sentiment. It was simply recognition that a durable solution of peace, security and prosperity for Rwandans must come from us.

That we could not recover, except by our collective endeavors.  That this is our country, our society, and our government.

Our history —

And Our future–

As President Kagame said at the time of the 20th commemoration in 2014: “Historical clarity is a duty of memory that we cannot escape. Behind the words “Never Again”, there is a story whose truth must be told in full, no matter how uncomfortable”.

This is critically important since the memory of our national suffering is under assault by genocide deniers who find perverse satisfaction and personal vindication in a fictionalized account of what happened in 1994.  A handful of bloggers and obscure academics, often closely aligned to Hutu Power figures who found refuge in Western capitals, engage in lobbying, public relations and advocacy efforts to cast doubt on what they disparage as the “official account” of the genocide. Some, bizarrely, contend that it was Tutsi, not Hutu, who carried out most of the killings. Others use creative algorithms to dispute the mortality figures, as if Rwandans are in the business of inflating the number of dead.

We must not relent in our vigilance against any attempt to blur the historical record. At its heart, as with Holocaust denial, these efforts are designed to make victims of perpetrators, and perpetrators of victims.  It is a vile repudiation of history. An assault on memory. An insult to suffering.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is upon us all to stand together for our Humanity. Genocide is a crime against Humanity and it victimizes everyone. We must increase cooperation and partnerships to confront this evil. We call on countries to institute legal mechanism that sanction Genocide denial and to speed in bringing perpetrators to justices. More importantly we need more institutional accountabilities. The recent meeting between the Pope Francis and President Kagame went a long way in restoring and reaffirming the trust in the church. It is the only way to honor the lives of those who were slain. Preserving the memory of our past so that we can learn from it, all of it, the chaff and the grain, the beauty as well as the tragedy.

Acknowledging our wounds and helping each other heal is a prerequisite to the prosperity of Rwanda as a nation. The weight of our history should not hold us down, lest we forget that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Thank you again for being here with us as we observe this solemn occasion. I also take this opportunity to thank people who have travelled from afar to be with us today.

 

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