Tears of Rwandans Flow on the Inside – Commemorating the Rwandan Genocide

Exactly sixteen years ago, as the world celebrated Easter last weekend, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons of Rwanda laid under siege waiting for the axe hanging over their heads to fall. And, as sure as day follows night, the axe fell within six days and, for the next agonising 90 days, the once beautiful “Rwanda” was awash with blood – and the whole world was watching in what in todays technologically advanced lingo they call “real-time”.

I have been trying to understand how can genocide happen in the world. It is one thing to know about it intellectually, and quite another to be in a country and with people which have been so directly and irrevocably affected by it.

What makes the situation even more powerful and disturbing for those who survived the pogroms recently is how the Rwandan genocide occurred and how, in the immediate aftermath, a vigorous campaign began to deny that a genocide took place, or to argue that it was justified – it galls your inside listening to these cynics.

Since time immemorial, some human beings have shown indescribable cruelty to others. To some degree, it is possible to understand aspects of this brutal behaviour. Some people may act out of fear, for themselves or their family, or because of imminent deadly threat or under direct military orders. There are ancient themes of war, whereby groups seeking and seizing power dehumanize other groups over which they seek control.

What I cannot comprehend, however, is what pushes a human being into unthinkable acts of torture and to inflict extended and profound human suffering. I cannot imagine what makes individuals torment and kill people they have shared their lives with: their close neighbours, their children, their mothers and their wives? How can one’s humanity and decency disappear or become buried within? This is where my capacity to understand fails me.

I once participated in a Genocide Prevention Forum, held in Arusha-Tanzania, and in the opening ceremony, remarks by one participant were significant. He said he believes that “it is worth spending time, energy and resources to fight against one of the most anti-human situations – genocide” and that the prevention of genocide was “the responsibility of each of us, each government and society.”

This participant emphasized the following: “It is important that countries from all regions get involved in order to foster an international environment to prevent and sanction genocide.” Genocide, he added, “is a highly political act and genocide prevention calls for political response. [It]… is a permanent challenge and must be an early action that contributes to strengthening the dignity of human beings…”

This gentleman put the accent on the need to forge alliances against genocide saying, “[p]eople and decision makers throughout the different regions of the world must be sensitized on the need and ways to prevent genocide, as a first step towards an alliance between countries to combat genocide.”

This is more easily said than done. The first international commitment against this heinous crime is the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948.

The preamble of this convention is a pledge against genocide denial by contracting parties. That genocide is a crime, “contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world”, is stated in no uncertain terms. Most importantly, nations recognized that “at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity,” and that they were convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required.”

There is no doubt that the Rwandan Tutsi genocide in 1994 was methodical and carefully planned, an initiative perpetrated by low-ranking and prominent individuals in government, the private sector, professional circles and amongst others, the churches. If the world had listened and had responded to the pleas for help, such a human catastrophe would not have unfolded in the manner it did.  That those 100 days in 1994 occurred 46 years after the passing of the CPPCG is an illustration of the extent to which the Convention failed.

Some few summers ago in Kigali, I met an American lady after her trip from the genocide memorial site. After deep reflection, she said: “I find myself deeply confused and filled with questions that I cannot find answers to. I am left with a profound sense of sadness at the capacity of my fellow human beings to not only hurt others in unthinkably horrific ways, but also the collective capacity of world powers to ignore and thereby condone such abject human cruelty when it does not benefit them to address it.”

I asked the American lady what she thought about the Genocide Prevention Task Force formed on November 12, 2007, by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen and co-chaired  with the US Institute of Peace, the US Holocaust Museum and the American Academy for Diplomacy.  The first anomaly, she said, was  “[n]ot one member of this task force is from the African continent or anywhere in the world where genocides have been identified and publicized.” This, she felt, “illustrates a major, frighteningly common, and ongoing failure in the conceptual formation of international public policy. Well intentioned, inherently biased and uninformed world leaders trying to address a problem from an ethnocentric and limited perspective.”

She believed that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should form a task force with representation from Rwanda and other genocide-torn countries.  She said, “There should be an official UN mandate to develop a comprehensive plan to: carry out research to understand the genesis of modern genocide; identify and implement prevention strategies; and have a clear and comprehensive plan to educate leaders and their populace within and beyond the UN structure regarding the findings. This can only be done with informed, diverse and powerful, and internationally recognized, representation.”

I later also asked a European businessman who had been to Rwanda several times about the world’s indifference to genocide. He identified the subtle denial of the crime as the core of the problem. He made reference to Bill Gates who makes the point often, in discussing his Gates Foundation charitable work, that finding effective solutions to combat killer diseases in Africa requires people and organizations in the developed world to place the same value on individual human lives in that continent as they do in their home countries. For this gentleman, that same issue is at play with respect to preventing future genocides.  “Only when the world becomes a small enough place that a collective humanity is established across continents would there be the political and economic will to take action to represent and protect those being victimized by government regimes seeking their destruction.”

Genocide is a dysfunction existing throughout the history of mankind.  It breeds where people are influenced to hate and dehumanize others. This hatred is commonly cultivated under the leadership of patriotism, ethnicity, or religion.

It is the basic responsibility of all people in our world to aggressively question and resist organization or authority whose leadership advocates war, hatred, or violence. However, when events transpire where this does not occur, it is the role of all citizens and nations of the world to intervene.

This role lies with the UN. UN forces recognized and reported the organization of genocide prior to 1994. Nevertheless, the leadership of the UN elected not to respond adequately, with predictable disastrous consequences.

Unfortunately, if genocide of this magnitude could occur amongst the people of Rwanda, it is possible to happen again in many places of the world. Hopefully, the world would not have to learn the lessons of the Rwanda genocide again, and that the UN would act aggressively when the signs of genocide become evident.

We Rwandans have chosen to move on, acknowledging the Tutsi genocide as a testing time. As a famous Rwandan saying goes “amarira y’umugabo atemba ajya mu nda,” which literally means, “the tears of a man flow into the inside.” In reality, it means that the sorrow of a gentleman does not show; it is felt but not betrayed. Rwandans have friends galore and cherish them, let them ignore these pursuers of no cause.

Even with that past, however, Rwandans know that they would define history, but would not be defined by it. It is on that premise that they are building hope.

— by Liban Mugabo (MPP 09/11)

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