ANALYSIS: DOUGLAS GAKUMBA
Rwandans and friends of Rwanda will tomorrow, (April 7), commence commemorative activities of which most of them will take place virtually, organised to mark the 27th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the darkest period in Rwanda’s history when more than a million people were killed in only 100 days, from April through July 1994.
This genocide against the Tutsi was carefully planned and orchestrated by Central Government, the former Government army and security organs, and for its execution, they politically mobilised the normal population to kill their fellow citizens with the common goal of total elimination of the Tutsi across the country.
The greatest thing is that the genocide was also stopped by Rwandans of the former Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) forces, who rescued thousands of Tutsi. Though commemoration activities go for 100 days, from April 7 to April 14 every year, Rwanda observes a national mourning week with all flags flying at half-mast.
Like other Rwandan diplomatic missions around the world, the High Commission of the Republic of Rwanda in Lusaka will host its 27th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi virtually on Sunday, April 25, 2021.
In line with recognising one of the most horrifying atrocities of the twentieth century, as of 7th April 2004, the UN General Assembly has recognised the atrocities committed in Rwanda as an ‘International Day of Reflection on the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda’.
Subsequently, sixteen years later, April 21, 2020, the UN General Assembly unanimously also adopted the Resolution /A/RES/74/273 on the ‘International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda’.
The commemoration period, called Kwibuka – the Kinyarwanda word for Remembrance – is a time Rwandans pay homage to the victims and reflect on Rwanda’s progress since the genocide.
It is also a moment in time when Rwanda and the world gain inspiration from the capacity of those who survived for lessons of reconciliation and restoration.
Under the theme ‘Remember, Unite, Renew’, the commemoration focuses on the legacy of strength, resilience, and unity that the new generation must uphold to sustain the gains Rwanda has made since the genocide.
Just as it was last year, this year’s commemoration would not be easy for survivors, families and the country because people will not be able to gather en masse at public venues to comfort one another due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda is a stain on all of humanity and a painful reminder of the horrors that dehumanisation and discrimination can lead to.
History fails to serve as a lesson for the world if there is no collaboration from the international community to work together to stop genocide denial, genocide revisionism, negationism and to bring genocide perpetrators to book.
It is, therefore, a collective responsibility to fight genocide denial and trivialisation in all its forms. Presently, genocide deniers of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and those trivialising it have adopted the use of modern technology including social media and main media outlets to propagate their ideas outside the country.
One of the characteristics genocide deniers share is the tendency to exonerate perpetrators and blame others, including the victims and people who stopped the genocide. Denial channels comprise fugitive genocidaires, their sympathisers, researchers, and journalists who have a link with the regime which perpetrated the genocide.
The Rwandan Government, through the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), has embraced the aforesaid fight against genocide ideology and revisionism by educating the Rwandan youth, who make up 70 per cent of the population in Rwanda.
Another remaining hurdle Rwanda continues to face is the pursuit of justice for those who committed the genocide against the Tutsi.
While the atrocities took place 27 years ago, steps continue to be taken to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice both within Rwanda’s jurisdiction and in jurisdictions outside Rwanda. Since 2007 and as of 2020, Rwanda has issued indictments and international arrest warrants for 1,145 individuals living in 33 countries worldwide.
Based on the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, States have an international obligation and responsibility to arrest and try or extradite those implicated in acts of genocide. (Article 1, 1948 Convention).
In December 2019, a Belgian court found Fabien Neretse, a former Rwandan official, guilty of war crimes for his role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the first such conviction in Belgium.
Similarly, in May 2020 one of the main financiers of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, Felicien Kabuga, was arrested in France and transferred to The Hague in October 2020.
Kabuga, who had been charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1997 with genocide and crimes against humanity, managed to evade justice for 26 years.
An ally of Rwanda’s Genocide Regime, Kabuga helped create and financed the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), whose broadcasts incited people to murder.
He is also accused of helping to buy machetes and weapons that were distributed to the Interahamwe militia groups to perpetrate genocidal atrocities.
Similar trials outside Rwanda have been conducted all over the world, including in the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Sweden, France, Canada, the US and Norway under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
These prosecutions are in addition to more than 70 prosecutions taken by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and over 10,000 prosecution by Rwandan domestic courts and trials by Rwanda’s Gacaca Community Court System (an example of Rwanda’s home-grown initiatives).
The stance of the Rwandan Government is that more can be done by the international justice community to collaborate with Rwanda to bring to justice perpetrators.
However, on an optimistic note, the fact that some countries are now progressing cases related to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi gives some hope, for victims and survivors alike, that they will see justice being done.
The government of Rwanda has also welcomed the report by a team of historians commissioned by the French government with full access to the French presidential archives from 1990 to 1994 to probe France’s role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
In April 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron appointed a panel of experts to probe France’s actions in Rwanda during the genocide.
They subsequently handed in their findings last month to President Macron having concluded their two-year assignment. The report concluded that France bears heavy and overwhelming responsibility over the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Further, Rwanda welcomes the decision by France under the Decree No 2019-435 of May 13, 2019 establishing April 7 as Day of Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Some countries have instituted the date of April 7 as the annual commemoration day of the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi.
In the last 27 years following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has demonstrated that it is possible to rise from the ashes, to heal and to rebuild a stronger, more sustainable society.
The steady rejuvenation of Rwanda coincides with the country’s stable post-genocide leadership which ensures to roll out effective pro-poor policies, home-grown initiatives and services that benefit all sectors of the Rwandan population, ensuring that the national gains are shared equitably. The country had been registering economic growth of eight per cent for the last 15 years.
As we forge ahead in fighting genocide denial, it is imperative for States to adopt laws penalising the denial of the genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.
The UN Resolution 2150 (2014), April 16, 2014 (on Threats to International Peace and Security) calls upon States to recommit, prevent and fight against genocide, and other serious crimes under international law, notable genocide denials by individuals (scholars, researchers, lawyers, politicians) and non-governmental organisations are active in developing theories on denial.
This resolution, therefore, reaffirms its strong opposition to impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, underscores the importance of considering lessons learnt from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The author is Second Counsellor at the Rwandan High Commission in Lusaka