Kwibuka22: Combating Genocide through inclusive development and social cohesion

The International Community joined Rwanda since April 7 to commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi, which has gone down in history as one of the biggest human tragedies in modern era.

The tragic events unfolded twenty two years ago, but the memories are still as fresh as they could ever be.

This is understandable when we remember that within just a hundred days, over one million Rwandans, men, women and children, were brutally murdered just for what they were or for having the guts and conscience to try to resist the killing spree of innocent souls.

It is painful to recollect yet again that the international community, including the neighbouring African countries, and the United Nations failed to fully comprehend the alarming signals from the meticulous state-sponsored preparations then for the mass killings of a particular group as well as to intervene decisively when the evil forces of the genocide were eventually unleashed on April 7, 1994.

For the United Nations, an additional unforgettable regret is that it could not even rescue its national staff from the killers. The consequences of this failure to act will forever remain as a stain on modern human history, and on the United Nations in particular. 

However, it is now broadly acknowledged and appreciated that out of the ashes wrought by the genocide, the visionary and determined leadership of H.E. President Paul Kagame and his comrades brought new light and hope to Rwanda.

Today, Rwanda is a model of post-conflict recovery, reconciliation, reconstruction and inclusive development. A solid foundation for durable peace and sustainable development and transformation, based on the concepts of effective and forward looking leadership, inclusiveness, reconciliation and active nurturing of social cohesion, innovation, safety and security, justice and the rule of law.  

On its part, the United Nations, learning from the painful lessons of inaction in the face of unfolding evil forces then, has proved to be a valuable partner to Rwanda in its efforts at rapid and sustainable recovery, reconstruction and inclusive development.

I am pleased to note that over the last two decades, countless numbers of UN staff have contributed in a dedicated manner to the impressive development results that Rwanda has realized so far.

United Nations has also actively sought to galvanize action on the principle “Never Again”, even if total success is yet to be achieved in this regard. The United Nations has put in place concrete policies and mechanisms to protect civilians, including its entire staff without distinction on the basis of nationality.

It is also working hard to realize the fundamental human right of security for everyone, and never again abandoning people in their time of need. The Organisation has also put in place mechanisms to ensure accountability for the crimes committed. 

The Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was only recently transformed into the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, to prosecute the perpetrators.  

Going further, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon launched the “Rights up Front” Action Plan.  In essence, the Rights up Front Action initiative seeks to strengthen the United Nations’ ability to prevent large-scale violations of human rights, particularly in conflict situations.

The plan is underpinned by several guiding concepts: prevention measures; early response to risks of real mass atrocities; more unified response by the UN system; sharing information and working more closely with all the Member States, national and international, on human rights violations and need for civilian protection.

One could confidently state that the United Nations and the international system are now better prepared to anticipate, detect and, I would strongly hope, respond to crises. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, clearly spoke to all this during his address at the Amahoro National Stadium on the occasion of the 20th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi on April 7, 2014.

Thus, as we mark the 22nd Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi and solemnly honor the memories of its many innocent victims, we have some reason to hope for an even brighter future for Rwanda and for the world. Many a people would be skeptical about this optimism in the face of all the conflicts that are raging presently in many parts of the world.

But we cannot fail to be buoyed up by the fact that Rwanda is currently among the strongest performing African countries and has firmly placed itself on a positive transformational trajectory.

It is currently among the biggest contributors to peace keeping missions around the world. As many observers have noted, this is truly remarkable when we take into account where the country was 22 years ago.

Yes, it is the case that the world has yet to see the last of large scale human tragedies.  Since the tragedy in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands of people have died in mass atrocities and tens of millions have been displaced in other parts of the world. 

The consequences for victims and their families over the past two decades have been staggering.  Recent cases are Iraq, Syria, DR Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Myanmar, Yemen, and Burundi.

The wider impact has been disastrous in terms of human suffering and security as well as for the economic and social development of entire regions, if not the entire globe. 

If we are to prevent future tragedies, progress requires strong and selfless leadership as well as courage to speak out at the very early stages – the kind of leadership and the kind of courage, that Roméo Dallaire and the young Senegalese Captain Mbaye Diagne showed 20 years ago. 

It also requires the kind of visionary and focused leadership and foresight that President Kagame and his colleagues have exhibited in upholding their fundamental responsibilities in a forward looking way and meticulously rebuilding a country and society that were virtually brought to ashes and torn to pieces, on the basis of powerful principles like inclusivity and nurturing of social cohesion in a painstaking manner.

These latter two principles are worth refocusing upon as we reflect on the genesis of the Genocide against the Tutsi and the key factors behind Rwanda’s remarkable recovery from it as well as its stellar development performance since then.

We have seen an unprecedented focus over the past three to four years on inclusive and equitable development as critical ingredients for achieving shared prosperity and durable stability of societies. It is at the heart of the new global development agenda, underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals.

But at the time President Kagame, his movement and comrades identified over twenty-two years ago, inclusive and equitable approach to development as a key element of their vision for reconstructing a new Rwanda, where insidious discrimination would be banished and where every Rwandan, regardless of their ethnic background, class or location, would be provided with the same opportunities for improving their lives, inclusive and equitable development was not fashionable in most African countries.

That period marked in large measure the height of the structural adjustment era when the main preoccupation for economic policy making was fiscal retrenchment, tight monetary policies and reining in state intervention in the mainstream economic activities in order to restore macroeconomic balance and stability.
Inclusivity considerations were definitely not high on the development agenda then.

Through innovative approaches to reconciliation against very heavy odds, President Kagame and his Government have provided very good examples of how enduring social cohesion could be attained.

The point I am trying to advance here is that the principles of inclusive approach to development and nurturing of social cohesion will be powerful tools for preventing genocides.

Sadly, we have been observing over the past few years the gradual but steady re-emergence of an important enemy against genocide prevention, which is Genocide denial. This could indeed be very insidious.

As the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, Dr Jean Damascene Bizimana, aptly remarked on April 7, genocides cannot occur without genocide ideologies.

Genocide denials are aimed at eroding the collective will of humanity to effectively deal with the perpetrators of this heinous crime and prevent its recurrence. It should, therefore, be combatted at all times and by all decent human beings, regardless of where they are.

The UN Secretary-General has recently added his voice to those raising the alarm bells against hate speeches and shameful denial of genocides.

The One UNRwanda will continue to work hand-in-hand with the people of Rwanda towards lasting peace, continuous promotion of social cohesion, education of the young people against genocide ideologies and promotion of tolerance, inclusive development and protection of human rights – towards a Life of Dignity for All.

Kwibuka 22 should serve once again as a reminder that “We the Peoples” (in the name and the words of the UN Charter) and our faith in fundamental human rights, should remain at the heart of all development processes.

The writer is the One UN Resident Coordinator in Rwanda.