As the world marks the 66th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, today, there is little to confirm that humankind has borrowed a leaf from previous tragedies.
The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1948.
Article 2 states that genocide means “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Acts of genocide include: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
After the Convention was promulgated in 1951, countries were supposed to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and in peacetime.
The Convention, which is the culmination of years of campaigning by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, came into effect as a result of the Holocaust (1941-1945), the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime.
Genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro believes the world has probably not learned a lesson as history repeated itself when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi happened.
“If the world had learned a lesson, the Genocide against the Tutsi wouldn’t have happened. People could have acted according to the spirit of the Convention,” Ndahiro said, adding that Genocide denial also persists today.
“The issue was bystanders who didn’t act. Nations that stood by were actually complicit in Genocide. Then there are actors like France which sat on the same table with people who planned and executed the Genocide,” Ndahiro said.
Countries like Belgium, which withdrew their peacekeepers from Rwanda, leaving thousands at the mercy of the killers, and eventually, the role of the UN, are also rebuked.
On April 14, 1994, Belgium announced the withdrawal of its contingent from the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (Unamir), in Kigali, leaving thousands of civilians to be murdered.
The next day, on April 15, Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the UN, requested Unamir’s complete withdrawal.
Genocide is a universal problem and, ever since 1945, there have been acts of genocide throughout the world. In 1995, there was genocide in Bosnia committed by Bosnian Serb forces.
More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed in Srebrenica by units of the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS).
In Rwanda, Opération Turquoise, a purported French-led military humanitarian operation in 1994, provided a cover for the Interahamwe militia and genodical government forces as the latter fled the country.
French forces did not care about arresting perpetrators of the massacres who had taken refuge in their area and later crossed over to the then Zaire, now DR Congo.
“Once in Zaire, the perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi were facilitated to reorganise. There is the French Operation Turquoise and the government of the then Zaire and some Belgian-based organisation [known up to 1999 as] Internationale Démocrate Chrétienne (IDC),” Ndahiro said.
The IDC was an international political organisation with tentacles stretching as far as Spain, Germany, Morocco and Brazil.
Denial on international media
Ndahiro said Genocide denial, the eighth stage of genocide where perpetrators cover up evidence of the crimes, “has gone as far as being broadcast on major world media” as the world watches, and nothing is done.
In this stage, victims re blamed for what happened while the perpetrators are protrayed as victims. A good example, he says, is the BBC’s October 1 documentary, ‘Rwanda’s Untold Story.’
“In the documentary, the American professor, Allan Stam, directly denies that the Genocide happened when he claims that ‘random violence happened and hundreds of thousands of people died for no particular purpose.’
“BBC2 does not even respect international jurisdictions which have ruled that the Genocide against the Tutsi was planned and executed. This position is not just denial but clear support of the perpetrators.”
Fighting denial, ideology
Today, the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) is urging everyone to remember, and join efforts in fighting genocide denial and genocide ideology.
Students and academics are today expected to engage in debates about the Genocide against the Tutsi in higher learning institutions across the country.
CNLG officials say discussions about all aspects of genocide and human rights can contribute toward fostering reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.
CNLG, in conjunction with the Rwanda Correctional Services, has also organised debates and discussions on genocide ideology and genocide denial in all prisons across the country.
Dr Jean-Damascène Gasanabo, CNLG’s director-general for research, said after Rwanda rose from the ashes, 20 years ago, its social cohesion, shared values, and the Rwandan identity are the foundation of the registered progress.
“Genocide deniers are using social media, television, newspapers, and academic journals. Rwandans should also write about the Genocide, use music, film, poems and other channels to testify,” he said.
“Genocide ideology has not died completely. The few with the ideology can later grow it and cause mayhem,” Dr Gasanabo said.