By Mutua Kobia
7 April, 2017
“Remember the genocide against the Tutsis – Fight Genocide Ideology – Build on Our Progress”
Kwibuka, in Kinyarwanda means “remember” and is used to describe the annual commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and is also the name of the event series across the world leading up to the national commemoration of the genocide on the 7th of April. The United Nations (UN) and the international community also commemorate annually.
On April 7, 1994 Hutu militias1 violently responded to the shooting down of then President Juvénal Habyarimana’s presidential plane over Kigali, which was also carrying the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira. This incident triggered mass violence over political and ethnic tensions that had been brewing for decades. Blame and hate speech ensued towards Tutsis (an ethnic population in Rwanda), quickly aggravating the scale and spread of violence as ordinary Hutu civilians were called on and encouraged to murder their Tutsi neighbours and moderate Hutus2.
Despite blatant genocide and minimal attempts to cover up the massacres, the international community and the United Nations Security Council seemed disinterested and made little attempt to implement any action. Allegedly, some members of the Security Council backed the genocidal government, further stalling any response. The UN had clearly failed in reacting to the calls of the Rwandese victims despite numerous pleas. Much criticism was put on the United Nations (UN) leadership and its member states; in 1999 an independent report by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was published, in which he looked at the failures of the UN towards the genocide. Not only was he himself remorseful but he also condemned the UN leadership for ignoring evidence that massacres were being planned and carried out, and he also ciriticised major powerful countries, such as the US, for “deplorable inaction and a lack of political commitment”3.
By the time UN troops and peacekeepers were deployed to Rwanda, the genocide was already over and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) regained control. The world was aghast at what had transpired during the months of April to June 1994 in Rwanda; the slaughtering of approximately 1 million Rwandese in and of itself was deplorable and the lack of interest and response by the UN and the international community was disheartening.
The UN Annual Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide was established on 23 December, 2003 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 58/234, “International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda”4, organized by the African Union (AU). The core aspects of this resolution are to ensure that perpetrators of such human rights violations are held in account by upholding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide including Security Council resolution 955 (1994) hence the creation and establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal. The understanding is that if people who commit such crimes do not go unpunished, future crimes of this kind will be averted. The resolution also calls for the international community to “act in accordance with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” in order to prevent further atrocities from taking place.
In these commemorations it has been reiterated by several members of the African Union Commission (AUC) as well as country ambassadors that ‘annual commemoration’ continuously awakens “greater awareness of the African peoples and the international community on the value of life and humanity” and is “a stark reminder of the sanctity of human life and encourages us to renew our collective commitment to protect and uphold fundamental human rights”.
This year’s 23rd Kwibuka Commemoration (2017) will be under the theme, “Remember the genocide against the Tutsi – Fight Genocide Ideology – Build on Our Progress”. In Rwanda there will be a National Mourning Week at the village and national level to reiterate the journey of reconciliation and unity and will conclude with a commemoration of the politicians killed who opposed the acts of violence5.
The United Nations will have candle lighting, a minute of silence and remarks by UN – Secretary General H.E. Mr. Antonio Guterres, a testimony by a survivor and a poetry performance by Ms. Malaika Uwamahoro among others and will be moderated by Mr. Maher Nasser, Officer-in-charge, United Nations Department of Public Information.
Position of GICJ and Civil Society
In addition to commending the work done to commemorate the victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) stands by the people of Rwanda in paying special tribute to all victims and applauds the will and efforts the country has made towards reconciliation and unity.
GICJ strongly condemns all forms of violence and discrimination as well as impunity of the perpetrators. The work, however, is not over as there are still victims who lack basic rights and proper living conditions and homes. Furthermore, not all perpetrators involved in the genocide have been brought to justice.
GICJ calls on the UN and the international community to continue its efforts in bringing justice and peace to Rwanda and urges strengthened efforts to prevent similar atrocities from ever occurring again. Additionally, better strategies and political will is needed to hold all perpetrators and organizers of planned crimes that violate international law and human rights to account.
Upholding human rights is crucial and awareness of any human rights violations is vital. For instance, hate speech and discrimination are violations that incite and spark violence, which may then lead to grave human rights violations and even amount to genocide. Civil society has an important role to play in that they must hold governments accountable towards any human rights violations. Additionally, civil society has the responsibility to always pressure governments and the international community to uphold their commitments and obligations towards protecting civilians and maintaining justice.
Further, GICJ often calls on the UN and all other relevant stake-holders to address and prevent grave human rights violations in several countries such as Yemen, Iraq, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and others as we fear these violations may escalate into genocide as is the case in Myanmar, South Sudan, and Iran. Additionally, GICJ urges the UN, governments, and the international community to uphold their commitments with respect to international law and international human rights law in order to prevent and/or suspend any genocidal acts so as to avoid another “Rwanda” crisis.
1. Interahamwe (“Those Who Attack Together”) and Impuzamugambi (Those Who Have the Same Goal”)