Rwanda honours Father Desbois for his role in fighting Genocide

L-R: Chris Harland, Legal Advisor to the Permanent Observer Mission of the ICRC to the UN; WJC General Counsel Menachem Rosensaft; Rwanda’s Ambassador to UN Valentine Rugwabiza; Father Patrick Desbois; and Genocide survivor Liliane Pari Umuhoza. Courtesy.

The Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress on Tuesday honoured Father Patrick Desbois with the first ‘Raphael Lemkin Award’ for exemplary work in the fight against genocide.

The award is in honour of his dedication to investigating and exposing crimes of genocide around the world.

Father Desbois is the founder and president of Yahad–In Unum, a global humanitarian organisation established in 2004 with the goal of identifying and commemorating the sites of Jewish and Roma mass executions in Eastern Europe during World War II.

The award ceremony took place at the UN headquarters in New York at a special event in memory of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer and refugee who coined the term “genocide” and initiated the Genocide Convention 70 years ago.

The award was presented on behalf of WJC President Ronald S. Lauder by Adam Hummel, a member of the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps.

“In the same way that Lemkin sought to name a crime that did not yet exist, Father Desbois has sought to find and name those victims whose lives were cut short by the perpetration of that very crime,

In these ways, Father Desbois’s work is a very real extension of what was started by Lemkin,” he said.

In accepting the award, Father Desbois warned that genocide is not only a hate crime, saying that there are no pure anti-Semites or pure hate groups.

“With every genocide comes also rape, the looting of property and money, and ideology. There is no genocide without neighbours,” he noted.

Father Desbois recalled among other stories a Yazidi child he interviewed recently who was turned into ISIS by his six-year-old best friend, and the barbaric behaviour of Nazi collaborators who would lay tables filled with sandwiches and tea while carrying out the mass shootings of Jews during the Holocaust.

Ambassador Valentine Rugwabiza, the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations honoured Lemkin’s legacy, saying, his passion, his belief in humanity, and his commitment should serve as an inspiration.

She also praised Father Desbois for his outstanding work in the fight against genocide.

“I can’t think of a more deserving awardee for the first Raphael Lemkin Award than yourself. By reminding us all there is no genocide without the participation of neighbours, it means that there is also no prevention of genocide without the active involvement of neighbours,” she noted.

She called on the world strive, on the individual level and in groups, to be that neighbour that does not stand by.

In less than two weeks Rwanda will mark 25 years since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, in which more than one million people were massacred.

“The weak response to this genocide, already 46 years after the ratification of the Genocide Convention, left us in shock and disbelief .What value is the Genocide Convention if it does not inspire, or indeed compel the world to stop genocides?” she wondered!

Rugwabiza also questioned if an enforcement mechanism could strengthen the convention or whether the UN Security Council urgently needs reform to ensure that the decision of a few powers don’t determine the lives of millions who have no say.

As part of the event, a panel of experts on genocide – including a survivor of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda – discussed the implications of learning from the past and working to prevent future genocides and crimes against humanity.

Panelist Liliane Pari Umuhoza, a child survivor of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, who has worked with other survivors over the years, indicated that the current challenges facing survivors include trauma.

“It’s been 25 years, and people tend to forget or think that maybe with time it gets better, but healing and time are two different things.” For survivors, the genocide is as clear as yesterday,” she said.