Remarks by Minister Louise Mushikiwabo at International Conference on Prevention of Genocides
Brussels, 01 April 2014 - Remarks by Hon. Louise Mushikiwabo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation at International Conference on Prevention of Genocides
International Conference on Prevention of Genocides. Brussels, 01 April 2014
H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General
H.E. Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chair of the Commission of the African Union.
Mr. Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium
H.E. Mr. Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General, The Council of Europe
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
A week from today, my country, Rwanda, will pause to commemorate twenty years since the Genocide against the Tutsi. People of good conscience the world over will join us in solemn remembrance. We are very grateful.
The commemoration period is first and foremost a time to honour the memory of the million souls who perished, as well as offer support and comfort to survivors.
We gather in this place, however, to meet another obligation arising from the events of 1994.
As leaders in public policy and international diplomacy, the 20th commemoration of the Genocide is a compelling opportunity to examine the progress we have made, or failed to make, with respect to the prevention of, and response to, mass atrocities.
For that reason, I am heartened by the participation in today's discussion of such esteemed speakers.
It reflects, I believe, a sincere desire on the part of governments and international institutions to avoid repeating the mistakes of 1994.
To turn “Never Again” from rallying cry to reality.
To learn from Rwanda’s experience, we must resist efforts to recast history for political or ideological ends.
It is a sad truth that every genocide attracts a small but vocal cohort of people who will seek to deny, negate or diminish the circumstances of the tragedy.
In the social media age, these individuals are able to create a disproportionate amount of noise and create confusion and doubt -- even among people of good will.
This is true of the Holocaust; it is true of Bosnia; it is true of Rwanda.
We must therefore remain vigilant in defense of the truth because to do otherwise would dishonour the memory of those who perished and utterly fail our obligation to those who survived.
Importantly, too, it would relieve the world of its duty to reckon squarely with the lessons of history.
Ladies and gentlemen:
Please allow me to touch briefly on the international response to the Genocide Against the Tutsi — and suggest what lessons can be drawn from that experience.
It is sometimes erroneously suggested that the world was blindsided by fast moving events in April 1994 and was therefore unable to act or act in time.
This argument rests on the fallacy that the genocide was a spontaneous eruption of violence that no-one could have seen coming. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The genocide was neither spontaneous nor entirely unexpected. It was the outcome of a deliberate state-orchestrated campaign over decades, to dehumanise Rwanda’s minority Tutsi population.
Several massacres had already taken place, beginning in 1959. British philosopher Bertrand Russell described one such bloodbath in 1964 as “the most horrible and systematic human massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis.”
In the early nineties, anti-Tutsi propaganda reached fever pitch, with hate radio and newspapers openly preaching extermination.
By 1993, the US State Department had specific information that extremists were preparing for genocide.
The United Nations was also warned, famously in a January 1994 fax from Canadian Major-General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the Rwanda peacekeeping mission then.
And surely many World Embassies present in Kigali had access to vital intelligence, some had special friendship with, and power over the genocidal regime and the Rwandan military’s chief sponsor.
Despite prior knowledge, the international community’s reaction to the growing crisis in Rwanda was worse than simply ‘do nothing’. They consciously turned their backs.
Days after the killings started, embassies were shut, expatriates flown to safety and peacekeepers withdrawn, targeted Rwandans left alone.
Surveying the escalating carnage, all the UN Security Council could do was debate for eight hours on April 29, whether or not it was appropriate to apply the word “genocide”.
I do not recount these events as a way to inspire guilt or pity, but as a prelude to this question:
If the world faced a comparable crisis today, have the lessons of Rwanda better equipped us to act?
It seems to me that the answer is by no means clear. That’s where our individual and collective obligation calls.
Yes, the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine was a positive step, and Rwanda forcefully advocates for its implementation from our seat on the UN Security Council, with the caution that every situation has its own context and merit. But we have also repeatedly encountered reluctance on the part of the major powers to meaningfully enact R2P principles.
In practical terms, protecting civilians is easily and often trumped by the geopolitical interests of the major powers. Look no further than Syria as an example.
Of course, intervention to protect civilians from violence should be seen as a last-ditch strategy. It should only occur when all appropriate preventive measures have failed — and these include diplomacy, dialogue, mediation and reconciliation.
We must also consider and perhaps priviledge the root causes of conflict, including poor governance, political exclusion, corruption and extreme poverty. State failure, discrimination and economic deprivation are common precursors to mass violence so it makes strategic sense to help build capacity in societies facing such conditions.
As Rwanda has discovered over our twenty year journey, peace and prosperity are mutually reinforcing — to achieve one, you need the other. We have learned that reconciliation is as difficult as it necessary, sometimes a lifetime endeavor.
Preventing genocide is a multi-faceted and daunting challenge. But we cannot afford to succumb to cynicism or despair because the alternative to preventing genocide is burying the bodies in its aftermath.
That’s why this conference — and this session — are so timely and important, and why I am so grateful for the opportunity to take part.