The United Nations and the African Union have paid glowing tribute to the people and leaders of Rwanda for pulling the country out of the devastation of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, saying the nation offers lessons to the rest of the world.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-General, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the AU Commission, also said the Genocide against the Tutsi, which was infamously greeted with world’s indifference, should serve as a lesson to the international community to prevent similar tragedies from happening anywhere again.
Ban regretted that the UN withdrew its troops from Rwanda “when they were most needed.”
“On my first visit to Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, Gisozi, I heard and felt the silence of death. The silence of all those lost, and the silence of the international community in your hours of greatest need,” he said.
“Many UN personnel and others showed remarkable bravery. But we could have done much more. We should have done much more.”
As the Genocide spread across the country in April 1994, the UN withdrew most of its troops, resulting in thousands of deaths across Kigali in subsequent attacks by the Interahamwe militia and the genocidal army.
The withdrawal of the peacekeepers came after the UN rejected repeated appeals from Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, the Force Commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (Unamir) to bolster the underfunded and overstretched force and widen its mandate to allow it protect civilians.
Dlamini-Zuma said the Genocide could have been prevented but the world failed Rwanda.
“We must take to heart the lessons of this great tragedy; we must never ever again allow any group to justify exclusion and genocide. Our diversity is our strength, its beauty. We owe it to our children and to our children’s children to remember the 300,000 children killed in the Genocide,” she said.
Any lessons learned?
Yet, Ban said, a year after the Genocide, the UN again abandoned civilians in danger.
“One year later in Srebrenica, areas proclaimed “safe” by the UN were filled with danger, and innocents were abandoned to slaughter,” Ban said.
And, 20 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, Ban said the world was yet to speak with one voice in the wake of similar human tragedy, citing international community’s indecisiveness on Syria and Central African Republic.
“The shame still clings, a generation after the events. Today, Syria is in flames and the Central African Republic is in chaos,” he said. “The world has yet to fully overcome its divisions, its indifference, its moral blind spots.”
But he said there had been some progress, citing South Sudan where UN peacekeepers sheltered thousands of civilians who were fleeing for their lives. Rwanda maintains hundreds of peacekeepers in the country.
“UN opened the gates of its peacekeeping bases to shelter them. The situation remains fragile. But many thousands of people are alive today thanks to this open gates approach -- a lesson of Rwanda made real… We must not be left to utter the words ‘never again’ again and again.”
He warned there is a truth to the human condition that is as alarming today as it was 20 years ago, noting that the “fragility of our civility and the bonds that hold people together can swiftly disappear.”
“No country, no matter how tolerant on the surface, is immune from targeting the so-called other. No corner of the world, no matter how advanced, is free from opportunists who manipulate identity for political gain.”
Both Ban and Dlamini-Zuma praised Rwanda’s recovery process.
“Over the past generation, you, the people of Rwanda, have shown the world another essential truth: the power of the human spirit,” Ban said.
“The resilience of the survivors almost defies belief. Children witnessed enough brutality to age them overnight. Yet you, and your country, have found a way to emerge from the depths, overcome frightful memories, and live again. You have shown the world that transformation is possible,” he said.
Dlamini-Zuma said Rwanda’s pursuit for reconciliation had reaped commendable progress and spurred the country in several sectors of socio-economic life.
“It’s not written anywhere that Rwanda or Africa must remain in poverty. Rwanda inspires Africa; it has done the unimaginable to transform lives of its people,” she said.
“I salute the women of Rwanda and the leadership for the economic and social transformation made in this country; today Rwanda is the fastest growing economy on the continent.”
Other foreign leaders who attended the main commemoration event at Amahoro Stadium include Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Salva Kirr of South Sudan, Ali Bongo of Gabon, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali, Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Also present include former UK premier Tony Blair, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, former Ireland president Mary Robinson, and African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka.