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International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda

On 7 April, the United Nations marked the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda. More than 800,000 people were violently murdered during the 1994 genocide, leaving families, villages and communities in severely traumatized states. A number of events are scheduled over the next 100 days—the length of the genocide—with the commemoration ending on 4 July, Rwanda’s “Liberation Day.” Reflecting on the humanitarian atrocities that took place 22 years ago in the East African nation, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has publicly urged governments as well as civil society to “stand firm against hate speech and those who incite division and violence.”

“One of the key warning signs is the spread of hate speech in public discourse and the media that targets particular communities,” the Secretary-General said. He also noted that this year’s theme for the Day of Reflection is ‘Fighting Genocide Ideology.’ Victims of the Rwandan genocide were predominantly Tutsi, with moderate Hutu, Twa, and others also targeted.

In an annual message on the 7 April anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the Secretary-General acknowledged genocide as “a process that takes time and preparation. History has repeatedly demonstrated that no part of the world is immune […] Genocide is not a single event.”

In “Ten Years On: Helping Rebuild a Nation,” UN Resident Coordinator Ahmed Rhazaoui wrote of a post-genocide Rwanda, describing the Great Lakes country as a “ghostly town.” However, Rhazaoui also outlines the process in which Rwandans (and their government) took action to re-establish the country’s order as well as its civilians’ lives. “The most urgent order of business was to help the new government re-establish law and order, provide relief to a traumatized populace, rehabilitate the basic services and mobilize the international community for urgently needed aid,” Rhazaoui said.

Shortly after the genocide ended, The Security Council set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), marking the first time in history that an international tribunal delivered verdicts to guilty genocide perpetrators. Headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, the ICTR was established on 8 November 1994 as “an international tribunal for the sole purpose of prosecuting persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and Rwandan citizens responsible for genocide and other such violations.”

From high-ranking military officials and politicians to religious and militia leaders, 61 people were sentenced for their roles in the 100-day massacre, with terms of up to life imprisonment for some. The Security Council acknowledged its “substantial contribution…to the process of national reconciliation and the restoration of peace and security, and to the fight against impunity and the development of international criminal justice, especially in relation to the crime of genocide.” The court also noted that, “during the 100 bloody days… unimaginable violence overtook the country... a rate of killing four times greater than at the height of the Nazi Holocaust.”

Referring to this year’s anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the Secretary-General touched upon a “shared responsibility,” suggesting a prevention of repeated atrocities by collectively protecting those in danger. The Secretary-General stated, “The best way to ensure that genocide and other egregious violations of human rights and international law can never occur again is to acknowledge shared responsibility and commit to shared action to protect those at risk.”

A memorial ceremony was held on 11 April at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, where the Secretary-General recognized three survivors in attendance. One of the survivors was Frida Umohoza, author of Frida: Chosen to Die, Destined to Live: “I believe that the international community has the power to stop things like a genocide when it starts, when it’s starting to boil up and the world is watching. I would say that’s the time to take action instead of waiting until a million people are gone and you say ‘never again.’ Saying ‘never again’ is great, but doing the ‘never again’ is greater,” Umohoza stated.

“We should all be inspired by the [Rwandan] survivors’ courage in showing that reconciliation is possible even after such a tragedy. With the Great Lakes region still facing serious threats to peace and security, healing and reconstruction remain essential,” the Secretary-General said in his statement. “While the capacity for the deepest evil resides in all societies, so too do the qualities of understanding, generosity and reconciliation.”

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