30th Anniversary of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda

By Inès Najeh /GICJ


7th April marks the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. This solemn occasion serves as a poignant reminder of one of the darkest chapters in human history, when over a span of 100 days, an estimated 800,000 Tutsi were brutally massacred amidst a wave of orchestrated violence. The genocide, born out of deep-seated ethnic tensions and political turmoil, shocked the global community and left an indelible mark on Rwanda and the international community.

This International Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly by resolution A/RES/58/234 on 7th April 2003. The resolution acknowledged that the Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued a judicial notice concluding that it was of general knowledge that between the 6th of April and the 17th of July 1994, a genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda took place.

The International Day of Reflection on the genocide serves as a time for introspection, remembrance, and a renewed commitment to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again. It is a day to honour the memory of the lives lost, to acknowledge the resilience of survivors, and to reaffirm our shared responsibility to uphold human rights, promote reconciliation, and build a more just and peaceful world.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a poignant reminder that the insidious root of genocide is hatred. Reflecting on the tragic events that unfolded in Rwanda in 1994, Guterres underscored the imperative of addressing the underlying causes of hatred and intolerance to prevent such atrocities from recurring. As the international community is shaken by voices of extremism, division and hate, Guterres' message resonates as a powerful testament to stand against all forms of hatred and discrimination and to never repeat the same mistake again.

Hate the starting point of genocide:

In rememberance of the International on Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, the UN Secretary-General's message invites to “stand as one gainst all forms of hatred and discrimination”, as hate awakes “humanity’s darkest impulses once more”, in order to avoid another catastrophe as the genocide of 1994.

Hate speech fuels extremism, division and violence within societies and plays a significant role in the perpetration of genocide. Indeed, it is safe to say that among the reasons to the genocide, ethnic tensions were exacerbated by hate speech inciting to eliminate the Tutsi community in 1994.

In Rwanda, hateful rhetoric vilifying the Tutsi minority was disseminated through various mediums, including radio broadcasts and print media, contributing to the dehumanisation and ultimately the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The complicity of hate speech in the Rwandan genocide underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to combat its spread and mitigate its destructive consequences, not only to prevent further atrocities but also to uphold the principles of peace, justice, and human rights globally.

It is crucial to recognize the profound impact of hate speech in inciting genocide and reaffirm our commitment to promoting tolerance, understanding, and respect for all.

The theme of hate speech is recurrent in our societies and impacts the lives of numerous individuals. For instance, within the realm of religious intolerance, we've witnessed recent occurrences where anti-Islam activists have shown their disdain by desecrating the Qur’an, often through acts such as burning or damaging copies of the holy book. The Human Rights Council, in Resolution 53/1, emphasised the need for immediate action to address religious hatred, including hate speech. The interconnectedness of the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression is evident in international law, with both rights protected by articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, tensions arise when hate speech incites violence and discrimination, as seen in the unpunished advocacy of religious hatred. National legal frameworks often fail to adequately address these issues, leading to gaps in protection and impunity for perpetrators.

This example, among many others, shows the seriousness and urgency to put an end to hate speech in order to avoid human rights violations that can lead to crimes against humanity, or genocide, especially in conflict-ridden regions such as Congo, Myanmar, and Palestine. In these contexts, hate speech is frequently employed as a tool to dehumanise and demonise targeted groups, inflaming tensions and inciting violence. For example, similarly to the Rwandan radio station comparing the Tutsis to cockroaches, the Occupying State of Israel called Palestinans “human animals”. The spread of offensive language, often through various media platforms and propaganda, fuels animosity and cultivates an environment ripe for atrocities.

Commemorating the Past, Preventing the Future:

The International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda serves as a poignant reminder of the imperative to prevent such heinous acts in the future. It also stands as a solemn occasion to commemorate the lives lost during the genocide and to honor the resilience of survivors. Diverse commemorative activities mark this day, ranging from candlelit vigils and solemn memorials to educational initiatives. The global community is encouraged to actively engage in these events, as Rwanda launched 100 days of commemorations to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1994 genocide.

Furthermore, on this day, the United Nations calls upon all Member States to enact preventive measures against genocide, safeguard vulnerable populations, and ensure accountability for perpetrators of such atrocities. UNESCO also plays a significant role in remembering and commemorating the genocide of 1994, notably by integrating teaching about the genocide in Rwandan classrooms.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) honors the memory of the victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and extends its unwavering support to the Rwandan people as they strive for accountability and peace. We denounce any manifestations of ethnic discrimination and violence that lead to widespread atrocities, including killings, torture, and disappearances. Safeguarding human rights must remain a top priority in every circumstance. Therefore, we promptly call upon the international community to fulfill its commitments and obligations to prevent genocide and ensure the protection of all individuals, especially in cases of current conflicts.

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