Commemorating 1994 genocide against Tutsi in times of COVID-19

ABEL Buhungu.

IT IS that time when Rwandans, friends and the international community commemorate the 1994 genocide against Tutsi. Yes, commemoration is nationally held annually on April 7.
The High Commission of Rwanda to Zambia, also accredited to Malawi, had initially planned to hold the 26th commemoration events in Zambia on April 10.
But alas, based on the commendable standing guidelines by the Zambian government relating to social distancing and avoidance of big gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was postponed indefinitely.
Yes, COVID-19 allowing, new dates for this vital event will be communicated as long as it can be held before July 4, a day that the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) ably and against very many odds stopped the genocide after 100 days of apocalypse beginning from April 7, 1994.
But, yes, commemoration is by the heart, and even without holding this event, we as Rwandans and friends will on April 7 remember over a million innocent lives that were butchered for how they were created by the Almighty.
The 1994 genocide against Tutsi represented the fastest genocide ever recorded in history; a genocide bizarrely committed by the government of the time against a part of their own population.
The colonial era and pre-July 4, 1994 governments of Rwanda which initiated and nurtured divisive and extremist politics left a legacy that destroyed the Rwandan social fabric.
In 1933 in their quest to implement their Divide and Rule policy, the colonial masters altered the then existing social classes and transformed them into ethnic distinctions by issuance of Identity cards that identified each Rwandan then and their offspring as of Hutu, Tutsi or Twa ethnic identity.
Given that all Rwandans share an identical culture and language, it is these same IDs that were later used in identifying exercise exclusion, incitement, hate, discrimination and government-led cyclic killings which climaxed in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.
The pre-July 4, 1994 government went on a recruitment drive from 1992, trained and armed militias known as Interahamwe, who later supported the national army and Police in executing the genocide.
They initiated and inculcated a propaganda of dehumanising Tutsi who, as an example, were then referred to as cockroaches and snakes.
This propaganda was written in newspapers as well as aired on radios and the national TV.
This fed into the execution of a well-orchestrated genocide against Tutsi which lasted for 100 days from April 7 to July 4, 1994 after it annihilated over a million Tutsis and some moderate Hutus.
After successfully ending the genocide, the post-genocide government of Rwanda faced an arduous task of rebuilding a country that had been almost entirely destroyed.
Bringing sanity to a country where it had lacked for decades, rehabilitating and building basic infrastructure, caring for the sick and survivors, reconciling Rwandans and delivering justice to the victims and their families were some of the uphill challenges for the post-genocide government.
To date Génocidaires and their support networks continue to peddle genocide denial, genocide ideology and falsehoods, with some having found new and receptive audiences in their areas of sanctuary as well as by exploiting prevalence of social media infrastructure.
By definition, genocide ideology is an aggregate of thoughts characterised by conduct, speeches, documents and other acts aiming at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate a people based on their ethnic group, origin, nationality, region, colour, physical appearance, sex, language, religion or political opinion, committed in normal periods or during war.
Genocide denial is an attempt to deny or minimise statements of the scale and severity of an incidence of genocide.
According to Gregory H Stanton, formerly of the US State Department and founder of Genocide Watch, genocide denial is the final stage of genocide.
For the genocide survivors, genocide denial is atrocious as it destroys the truth and their memory, perpetuates the crime of genocide and at worst attempts to turn the victim into the villain.
In the context of Rwanda, these crimes of genocide ideology and denial are propagated through mass media, books and other publications. Denial is also spread through internet, data postings, holding international conferences as well as through international forums.
It is worth noting that UNSC Resolution A/RES/58/234, which was modified on January 26, 2018 by Resolution 58/243, designated April 7 as an International Day of Reflection on the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Relatedly, UNSC Resolution 2150 (2014) recalls conclusions of the final report (S/1994/1405) of the Commission of Experts established pursuant to UNSC Resolution 935 (1994) which, among other things, stated that it was “a fact of common knowledge that there was a genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsi ethnic group in which more than a million people were killed; underscores the importance of taking account of lessons learned from the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda; condemns without reservation any denial of this genocide and urges Member States to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the genocide in order to help prevent future genocides; welcomes efforts by Member States to investigate and prosecute those accused of this genocide; and calls upon states to investigate, arrest, prosecute or extradite, in accordance with applicable international obligations, all other fugitives accused of genocide residing in their territories, including those who are FDLR leaders.”
All well-meaning members of the International community should thus be seen to implement the UNSC resolution mentioned above and help in combating genocide denial/ genocide ideology.
Combating denial of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi and genocide ideology should, given the gravity of this crime, be a moral obligation of all well-meaning members of the international community.
Rwandans in general pay tribute and commemorate the victims of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi as well as reassuring and comforting survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
And as Rwanda continues to register progress in various sectors including reconciliation, governance and economic development, the East African nation still relentlessly pursues accountability for all those who directed and nourished the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.
Twenty-six years on, a significant number of people responsible for the genocide, including former high-level government officials and other notorious masterminds of the genocide, have been tried by the Rwandan justice system. Moreover, as a sign of some budding global unity for fighting genocide-related impunity, a growing number of countries, especially in the West, have extradited genocide fugitives to stand trial in Rwanda. Relatedly, national jurisdictions in some of the countries where genocide suspects are living, and in some cases acquired citizenship, have also conducted investigations and tried some of the suspects in their own domestic courts.
Extradition of genocide fugitives, convicts and trials of Rwandan genocide suspects have in the last eight years taken place in a number of countries, including Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Malawi, Tanzania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.
Government has negotiated extradition treaties with a number of countries in an attempt to try genocide suspects in Rwanda.
In 2018, it ratified treaties with Ethiopia, Zambia and Malawi. Other African countries which have extradition treaties with Rwanda on international crimes include the Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, and – in the context of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region protocols – Rwanda also has an Extradition Treaty with the DRC.
Rwanda is grateful to the current leadership of the DRC for the noble role it is playing in fighting Rwandan terrorist groups that had for long wreaked havoc on Congolese nationals and launched terror incursions into Rwanda from eastern DRC.
Some of their top commanders have been killed in eastern DRC by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and in a recent case over 300 combatants of the FDLR genocidal militia surrendered after their base in DRC’s South Kivu province was destroyed by FARDC in December 2019.
The militias that surrendered handed over weapons to the FARDC as a result of sustained military operations against them. These disarmed militias were repatriated back to Rwanda where they are undergoing rehabilitation before reintegration in the Rwandan community.
Negative forces operating in Eastern DRC include a myriad of Rwandan groups such as the FDLR, FLN and RNC. These terrorist groups are united around an extremist divisive ideology which is spread through social media platforms and with support of their international support networks.
Rwanda will continue to prioritise security for all and steadily pursue its all-inclusive developmental path. It will also not cease to remind the international community of its responsibility for fighting genocide-related impunity. We as Rwandans and friends should be comforted by the fact that the long arm of the law will continue catching up with all genocide fugitives that are still roaming the globe and aided by their international support networks which are often linked to officials of the former government that committed the genocide.

The author is charge d’affaires at the Rwanda High Commission in Lusaka.

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