Is the world living up to the notion, never again?


Youth light the flame of hope during a past Genocide comemmoration event at Kigali Memorial Centre. File.

This weekend on December 9, the world will mark the World Genocide Commemoration Day to commemorate victims of genocide and highlight humanity’s responsibility to prevent future genocides.

Like has been the case in previous years, the day is characterised by calls of ‘Never Again’ with promises of never allowing the re-occurrence of such atrocities on the world’s watch.

The day is also intended to underline the significance of the United Nations Genocide Convention signed on December 9, 1948.

However, despite the pledge and commemoration, genocide and related atrocities have continued to occur.

This was witnessed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, armed conflicts in Darfur, Sudan, persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, Genocide of Yazidis in Iraq, among others.

These events have portrayed failure on the part of the international community, according to experts.

Alice Urusaro Karekezi, University of Rwanda’s Center for Conflict Management researcher and lecturer told The New Times yesterday that the reality in world politics remains that states remain primary custodians of their own people’s security.

“Over the last century, the notion of collective security gained greater currency, which was a welcome development. Yet, it has not suppressed the reality that in a world where the nation state still is the most important actor, states and societies remain the primary guarantor of their security,” she explained.
Using the case of Rwanda, she said that the country took stock of its own experience and moved in to be the main guarantor of all security of its citizens.

Rwanda took seriously the fact that she is the primary guarantor of her security, and that security for all Rwandans is a basic need that is imperative to address; and any attempt to jeopardise it amounts to threatening her survival as a nation,” she said.

Renowned genocide studies researcher Tom Ndahiro said that even when atrocities occur, the response from the international community has been to only condemn verbally.

“The problem has been lack of interest in protecting lives and failure on the side of the world to learn that protection of lives starts with protection from hate propaganda. Even when groups of people are being persecuted or killed because of who they are, the reaction is to pay lip service and just express sympathy and condemn in writing and speeches and nothing is done. You can look at the most recent case of the people of Rohingya in Myanmar and the case of Burundi,” he said.

In neighbouring Burundi, despite all indicators of a genocide, not even the regional economic bloc East African Community has gone beyond verbal condemnation.

Popular global trends have often put politics before human lives, observers say.

“It is as if politics comes before human lives, nobody thought that after what happened in Rwanda, the same thing would happen elsewhere,” Ndahiro said.

The preamble of the United Nations convention adopted in 1948 came with the right intentions but little was done to put it to action.

“Its preamble was asking each and everyone in the world to be pro-active in preventing and punishing the crime of genocide that never happened. We saw recurrent atrocities starting with what happened in Rwanda in 1959, 1962, then in 1963 in December beginning on the Christmas Eve to the first and second week of January 1964. Policies leading to the genocide here in Rwanda were there and people were congratulating the government that was committing the atrocities,” Ndahiro added.

Beyond failure to intervene, the hollowness of the phrase is also evident in the failure of signatories to the convention to try genocide fugitives in their territories or extradite them for trial.

“To date, countries like the United Kingdom, have not tried genocidaires who are on the British territory. They know they are there and they create pretext not to try them or extradite them. Such levels of paying lip service make the phrase never again empty, hollow and rhetoric,” the researcher added.

The failure to curb genocide ideology and propaganda has also exposed the failure to honour the convention and its pledge, scholars say.

Allowing propaganda, genocide denial and hate speech often veiled as freedom of speech is increasing across the world.

“Another bad thing is to allow the same ideology which led to the death of over a million people here (Rwanda) to be published in the mainstream media. It is as if they are supporting the very perpetrators and their supporters,” Ndahiro said.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Cherie Blair chair of Omnia Strategy LLP, wrote that living up to the mantra can be achieved by applying lessons learned from countries such as Rwanda, including in the delivery of justice.

““Never again,” the mantra repeated instinctively after every atrocity, means delivering justice for past tragedies. This should be within the capacity of the international community. We can start by applying the lessons we should have learned from Rwanda. Otherwise the roll of victims will only continue to grow,” she wrote.

In an interview with The New Times last month, seasoned British investigative journalist Linda Melvern also noted that, going by the world’s and specifically the UN’s response to atrocities, no lessons have so far been learnt from past attrocities.