- April 7, 2015
Dear friends of Rwanda and compatriots,
I would like to welcome you to the Embassy of Rwanda and take this opportunity to thank you for your friendship and solidarity as we officially begin this period of commemoration known as Kwibuka21. As we pause to remember and reflect on one of the most trying and critical periods in our history, your presence offers a comforting reminder that we are no longer standing alone.
The genocide against the Tutsi has justifiably come to symbolize failure on the part of the international community in its inability or refusal to stand up for our shared humanity. You are here today because you unequivocally subscribe to the idea that Genocide is a crime against Humanity and affects all of us. You are here because you are among those who dare to dream that one day, our collective voices of “Never Again” will become a reality.
It is understandable that people focus on the one hundred days beginning April 7th 1994 given its unparalleled magnitude both in scope and cruelty. However 1994 was not a beginning but a culmination of decades of discrimination, oppression and violence directed against one group of Rwandans whose only fault was to be born Tutsi. It wasn’t, as some would have you believe a sudden or unpredictable eruption of mob violence. For decades preceding the tragedy of 1994, Rwanda’s political leaders pursued a policy of demonization and dehumanization aimed at the Tutsi population that laid the groundwork for genocide. The Anti-Tutsi propaganda permeated all the major institutions of the country and the privileges of citizenship — and the protection of the state — were stripped from the Tutsi decades before genocide. They became the “other” in their own nation and the Media eagerly propagated that idea that Rwandans of Tutsi descent were somehow enemies within — even less than human—and that to kill them was an act of patriotism. From vilification and dehumanization, it is a short and logical step to eradication.
Numerous outbreaks of ethnic violence and mass killings — in 1959, 1963, 1968, 1973 and as late as 1992 — laid the ground work to genocide and drove hundreds of thousands of survivors into exile in neighboring countries and beyond. The privileges of citizenship — and the protection of the state — were stripped from the Tutsis decades before genocide. The specter of genocide hung over Rwanda for many years before April 7th, 1994. From vilification and dehumanization, it is a short and logical step to eradication
Today is an opportunity to mourn and honor the victims, offer support to survivors, and bring Rwandans together as they collectively face that painful past and confront the future with renewed confidence and unity. This is an opportune moment for all of us to draw lessons from what happened in one of history’s darkest chapters and to strengthen our resolve of not being bystanders to genocide.
No one knows better the pain of genocide than the survivors who witnessed immeasurable suffering. Society itself collapsed around them as all the major institutions failed in their mission to provide protection and comfort: Even the most sacred human institutions such the Church and the Family lost their moral compass.
Within three months, a country of the size of Maryland lost more than 1,000, 000 people, our parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, nieces and nephews. Within 3 months, song and dance and laughter died…seemingly forever. In the aftermath of Genocide, our nation was all but destroyed. No one dared to hope that it will one day rise again and become a place that make all Rwandans proud. We could have remained in a state of permanent despair.
No one could have blamed us if we adopted a crouch of victimhood. But instead we opted for a different path. We gathered enough strength to pull ourselves from the ashes and to rebuild our nation. For the last 21 years, we found within ourselves resilience and courage to reject the politics of division and hate. We chose a path that put emphasis on our common identity as Rwandan and embarked on the politics of reconciliation.
That has included rebuilding institutions from the ground up, implementing community-based justice through Gacaca courts which heard more than two million cases, and initiating a range of home-grown solutions to address socio-economic challenges at the grassroots.
It’s because of reforms like these that 3.5 million refugees have come home since the genocide.
….one million Rwandans lifted themselves out of poverty between 2006 and 2011 propelled by economic growth of more than 8 percent.
….HIV-AIDS, once a death sentence, is now treated as a manageable chronic disease — and mother to child transmission has been effectively eradicated.
….death from malaria has declined by 85 percent.
Thanks to these and other advancement, including near universal healthcare, life expectancy has risen by 20 years over the past two decades.
Free education now extends through to secondary school with participation rates among the highest in Africa.
These milestones are not just statistics designed to impress; they are the tangible outcome of hard work and a unified sense of purpose among Rwanda’s leadership and its citizens.
We still face many complex challenges, and future generations will be called upon to continue the struggle to build a prosperous nation that offers more and better opportunities for its people.
The distinguished speakers have extensively covered the scope of what happened in Rwanda 21 years ago when our country endured one of the worst horrors of the 20th century. They also eloquently presented on the troubling rise of Genocide denial, trivialization and revisionism despite irrefutable historical evidence. As Gregory Stanton argues denial is the last stage of Genocide.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The genocide against the Tutsi took place in full view and the world stood as a witness. Yet our search for answers is threatened by efforts to scramble our understanding of what took place in Rwanda in 1994. The attempts to promote the lie that the facts of the genocide are up for debate hamper the efforts under way for all Rwandans to face collectively and draw lessons from the dark history of their nation.
Genocide denial is not merely offensive speech, but it’s harmful and dangerous. The reaction to the recent documentary produced by BBC “The untold story” is not a question of hurt feelings even though it was undeniably hurtful especially for survivors, but more importantly it is because we understand that when a News Organization with the Cultural Power and legitimacy of the BBC distorts the history of a genocide, it makes the task of prevention much harder. It’s tempting to see this as a Freedom of Speech issue. But it has long been understood and widely accepted that the right to speak freely doesn’t extend to speech that incites violence. The ideology of genocide denial is profoundly dangerous and immensely violent.
There isn’t an official version alongside another, more authentic account kept hidden from view. There is no “victor’s narrative” but there is “the truth of the victim”. Genocide by its nature produces no victor. There is only loss. Loss of life, of loved ones, of dignity, of hope. Providing a forum and a platform in the media to voices of denial and revisionism, for the sake of balance, is to open door to a dangerous and misguided false equivalency. The history and meaning of genocide shouldn’t be used as another binary political battleground.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Genocide denial will never stop the Rwandans’ will and determination to transform the genocide’s wounded memory into a resource for establishing a new contract of confidence and solidarity for our people. What should have been a major handicap has been transformed into a renewed zeal and enthusiasm for reinventing our nation. Rwandans have defied the odds and predictions of doom and have moved on and written a new chapter, together as one people, as one nation.
Dear friends, help us to add chapters to our Narrative of assent and continue to be with us as we strive to restore the dignity of our wounded nation. I thank you and wish you well.