Kwibuka25: Call for collective, and individual responsibility

A history that is not remembered is bound to be repeated.

The importance of commemoration – in our case, the Genocide against the Tutsi – is the best way to honour the memory of those who were murdered, and to ensure that such events never occur again.

History is filled with tragic chapters of hatred and dehumanization, persecution that led to the genocide against innocent Tutsi, due to their physiological features.

That’s why the country and the world at large must be ever alert to the warning signs of genocide, and act quickly and early to avert it.

The 25th Commemoration of the genocide against Tutsi, therefore, sends a strong message that Rwandans will not tolerate the reign of impunity, which culminated into the killing of a million Tutsi.

For a couple of years, at national and international level, they have dedicated time, on the one hand, to pay special tribute to those who perished innocently and, on the other hand, to stand by the survivors of unspeakable tragedy.

More importantly, to send out a message that ‘never again genocide’. Moreover, commemorations are used as a tool to rebuild the social and political wounds of societies after the traumatizing events.

In any event, keeping the memory of the victims of horrible events alive contributes to preventing history from repeating itself.

Besides, it is a reminder of our moral duty to fight off even the remotest idea of genocide. Therefore, this calls for an individual and collective responsibility. Indeed, at an individual level, everyone must feel a sense of moral obligation to take action possible to resist early signs of genocide. 

A concerted approach must use available mechanisms to prevent any violation of human rights, a potential early sign of genocide. Such an approach must work together with existing global mechanisms on the prevention of genocide and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

There’s clash between legality and morality that galvanized the ill-starred Responsibility to Protect, a principle which requires the international community to shoulder the responsibility to prevent genocide—even if doing so means attacking a sovereign state.

The best solution to the complicated situations is to apply Responsibility to Protect: intervene only as necessary to stop innocent people from being killed, without taking political sides.

It is incumbent on the wider international community to encourage and assist individual states in meeting their obligation to prevent the core international crimes.

The international community must remain ever vigilant as a means of living, more meaningfully, up to its obligation against genocide.

To Rwandans, bringing that dark chapter into light helps clarify and sharpen what we mean when we say ‘never again’. Before thinking of the world that can prevent and punish genocide, Rwandans should be conscious to prevent any early sign of the genocide from happening again.

Naturally, understanding and preventing a heinous crime, for example, genocide, should spring to the mind spontaneously, and thus should not be learnt from a school or college.

The commemoration is a moment to reflect on the early signs of the genocide, such as organized propaganda campaigns or messages of hate spread from nursey through higher learning institutions.

For instance, hatred had been institutionalized as not only being acceptable, but even aided and abetted. It’s like pouring gasoline on the fire. The permission to hate became permission to kill.

National case law (or jurisprudence) of the genocide will also continue to reverberate for the present and future generations, to shoulder a responsibility to prevent the genocide.

This has, equally, been experienced in the formerly International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was supplanted by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (“Mechanism”) whose mandated is to perform a number of essential functions previously carried out by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Undoubtedly, domestic and international judicial bodies have achieved holding accountable the Rwandan leaders of the former so-called government, bringing to justice to victims, giving victims a voice, establishing the facts of heinous crimes, developing international law (jurisprudence), strengthening the rule of law.

For example, the ICTR sentenced the former Prime Minister of Rwanda, Jean Kambanda, on 1 May 1998 for planning, participating in and provoking genocide and committing crimes against humanity; and also sentenced Jean-Paul Akayesu on 2 September 1998 for the crime of genocide.

The judicial determination of the ICTR regarding the crime of genocide was later shaped, more particularly, by the Akayesu judgement.

In fact, various judgments of the ICTR underscored, in particular, that the crime of genocide can be committed with special intent, which was specified by terms such as ‘special intent’, ‘specific intent’ and ‘specific genocidal intent’.

Though ICTR, considering some of its decisions, even its sister tribunal [ICTY], did not invent novel legal norms, its jurisprudences will remain a legacy for all times that virtually a million Tutsi were denied the right to life. As such, they have significantly contributed to the development of the law as regards the genocide.

To sum up, it is our moral obligation—individually and collectively—to say never again, not in words but in action.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.