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RWANDA: Remembering the Unforgettable

Selina Rust

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2010 (IPS) - Sixteen years after the genocide in Rwanda, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon vowed that the international community would never again sit by while mass atrocities are committed against innocent civilians.

“Together, let us pledge our determination to prevent genocide as the best way to remember those who lost their lives so tragically in Rwanda,” he said as the United Nation observed a global day of remembrance for the tragedy Tuesday.

On Apr. 6, 1994, the presidential guard, the army, police, and prominent businessmen started calling for the death of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. During a period of less than 100 days, 800,000 people were killed with machetes, guns, clubs, and pure brute force.

The resistance of numerous U.N. Security Council members hampered the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda from the outset and caused an international failure to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

“How different it would have been, had we, the international community, acted properly at the proper time,” Ban said.

This year’s commemoration, organised in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Rwanda, featured a candle-lighting ceremony with music performed by young Rwandan and international musicians and a film screening of the documentary “As We Forgive”.

Speaking at the ceremony, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the U.N. Eugène-Richard Gasana stressed that even 16 years later, the effects are still felt by genocide survivors and Rwandans everywhere.

“The need still remains for expanding the capacity of existing mental health treatment programmes and investing in new programmes to outweigh the underlying trauma,” he said. “We have undertaken the challenges of reconciling our people and rebuilding our economy and restoring our dignity and self-respect.”

Edward Luck, Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, underlined that the international community must learn from its failures in Cambodia, Srebrenica and Rwanda.

“We need to understand that the responsibility to protect is a continuing one, borne by governments, armed groups, international organisations, and individuals alike,” he said. “It is still sobering to acknowledge that we are still struggling to find surer ways of preventing genocide and promoting the responsibility to protect.”

In order to implement the Responsibility to protect (RtoP), Ban released a report that outlined the three pillars of RtoP in January 2009.

The pillars include the protection responsibilities of the state, international assistance and capacity-building, and timely and decisive response.

“Debates will continue on the three pillars of responsibility that I outlined in my report. But the international community stands firm and in solidarity against genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing,” Ban said.

Mentioning those pillars, Gasana told IPS that before prevention, there is a need to establish monitoring systems and early warning mechanisms to intervene immediately.

“It’s all a matter of leadership. We have to engage people since we are living in a global village. Just sit down and talk – as simple as it is – without prejudgments,” he said.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Ban noted, delivered the first-ever verdicts in relation to genocide by an international court.

“These and similar actions from the halls of justice have sent a clear message to the genocidaires and would-be genocidaires. Simply put, their heinous crimes will not go unpunished,” he said.

That gives hope to atrocity survivors like Jacqueline Murekatete, who lost her family in the Rwanda genocide at the age of nine.

At the commemoration, she shared her experiences as a Tutsi in a country that believed that her ethnicity was a crime deserving of death.

“Today I remember the unforgettable day when I learned that my own entire family had been taken from their homes and dragged to a nearby river, where they were butchered as if they were animals,” she said.

“And today I recall the nights that I used to listen to the cries of infants whose arms and legs have been hacked off,” she said.

As a result of the massacre, there are more than one million orphans in Rwanda.

After the genocide, Rwanda had among the highest proportions of child-headed families in the world – some 42,000 households struggling to raise an estimated 101,000 children.

In Rwanda, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped during the three months of genocide, and many were infected with HIV/AIDS.

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