The moral, legal imperative to remember

Rwanda is in 100 days of remembrance of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, during which over a million innocent Rwandans were brutally killed by fellow citizens.

“Never Again” and “Never Forget” should be phrases often used when talking about Genocide against the Tutsi.

These emotive and powerful phrases evoke the idea that by forgetting genocide, we risk allowing such to happen again. These words suggest it is our duty—everyone’s duty—to remember and memorialise episodes of genocide forever.

It’s hard to imagine that the victims can be forgotten. But if no one chooses to remember them, it can leave a large hole in our history.

As is famously held, history that is not remembered is bound to be repeated. Remembering history is important but remembering the worst part of it is more important.

It is important to talk about it, not let it go unmentioned and the world and everyone can learn something from it.

Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi provides a yearly moment to remember the slaughtered Tutsi, and there is logic and a moral urgency to do so. Remembering is therefore a collective exercise.

So remembering Genocide against the Tutsi isn’t merely looking back on the past episode, it is often a moment to ask why did this tragedy occur? What were the underlying causes? How can Rwandans live up to “Never Again” pledge?  What are the mechanisms to ensure that it never happens again?  What must be the role of an individual Rwandan?

All these are questions of fundamental importance as we remember genocide against the Tutsi. These questions help us think over the magnitude of the tragedy that befell our country.

Remembrance of a tragic history is not nostalgic memories. Remembering [tragic history] requires every Rwandan, individually and collectively, to have a sense of moral obligation to combat any seed or signs of genocide ideology, or its negation, or trivialisation.

It must be conceived, starting at an individual level, as a solemn duty, to resist and report any early warnings of genocide.

Remembrance of the tragic episode is in fact a moment to reflect on the past philosophy of bad governance that was the root cause of the catastrophic death of the innocent Tutsi.

Having seen that, everyone must be determined to shore up various government mechanisms and strategies to prevent and punish genocide and for its ideology never to recur.

Of course, the government, through its law enforcement agencies, bears the primary responsibility but also civil society organisations and individuals have a shared responsibility to prevent it.

Let everyone live up to genocide “Never Again” mantra. The present generation must undertake action to prevent young and future generation not to inherit the genocidal ideology that was indoctrinated from parents and system of the time.

The indoctrination was quick to germinate and sprout in the minds of most people in society.     

“Never Again” is a belief that we can and should perpetuate while learning from the past mistakes.

Preventing genocide is a moral and human imperative, and remembrance and education certainly help toward this goal. Remembrance is about historical consciousness and the responsibility of memory.

Arguably, remembering should be considered as a moral good in so far as it facilitates the development of a particular type of subjectivity and responsibility. Remembrance helps people develop the cognitive and moral skills necessary to resist instances of genocide and its ideology.

Besides, commemorative events should serve to raise consciousness, to inform policy and legal developments that can contribute to fighting the impunity with which such horrific crimes are still committed.

If the last century was the age of atrocity, it was also the age of impunity. Few of the perpetrators were brought to justice. Just as there cannot be a sanctuary for hate or a refuge for bigotry, neither can there be a haven for the perpetrators of the worst crimes against humanity.

One of the greatest lessons of the Genocide against the Tutsi is the danger of indifference and the consequences of inaction. The Genocide occurred not only because of the machinery of death and a state-sanctioned culture of hate, but also because of crimes of indifference and conspiracies of silence.

What makes the Genocide against the Tutsi so unspeakable is not only the horror of the Genocide, but that this genocide was preventable. To put it simply, the UN Security Council and the international community shrugged off early warnings of genocide until its execution.

In such time of remembrance, all Rwandans must bear in mind that they have primary responsibility to live up to “never again”. The UN or international community has a secondary responsibility.

All Rwandans must have a common understanding and determined mind to say never again. History perfectly teaches us a lesson to rely on none other than ourselves.

The writer is a legal expert.


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