It may be 22 years since the Genocide against the Tutsi; however this has not stopped some people from attempting to contradict, distort or completely deny what happened in both written and audio-visual form.
Genocide studies indicate that denial is the last stage.
Over the last few years, perpetrators of Genocide and their sympathisers have actively campaigned to deny the crimes they committed or the magnitude of the atrocities. They are achieving this through speeches, documents, books, manuscripts and other platforms aimed at portraying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi as a ‘civil war’.
Genocide denial is continually being done and promoted on popular social media outlets and various other online platforms like blogs where malicious, hateful messages and manipulation is done by people attempting to deny the Genocide.
Over the years, the country has witnessed denial facilitated by several internationally renowned media houses as well.
They do so by creating confusion through material aiming at negating, altering testimonies or evidence of the genocide by attempting to deny that there was classification ,symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation and persecution leading up to extermination or Genocide against the Tutsi in April 1994.
Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka, an Umbrella Association for Genocide survivors’ organizations, told Sunday Times that Universities and their students can play a vital role in fighting Genocide denial online.
“People who deny the Genocide are intellectuals and researchers. They are very smart and conniving. They have especially fuelled their Genocide denial attempts during this commemoration period. University students are not only well versed with the internet and social media outlets, they are also well positioned intellectually to lead the fight against such online distortions of what happened during the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994,” he said.
“They can educate themselves more regarding genocide denial tactics and present facts in their counter arguments. Our universities have grown over time their research centers should start treating Genocide denial and ideology as a priority.
The most important factor perhaps is dissemination of their research which should not be left to gather dust on shelves. They can document their work including sufficient proof and facts online so that wider audiences can access it,” he added.
Dusingizemungu further urged the Rwandan Diaspora to engage the international community in discussions that educate them regarding the true accounts of the Genocide against the Tutsi. He added that they can also counter genocide denial online using all the resources better availed to them and can approach their embassies for any other help they may need.
“Rwandans should train themselves to be assertive regarding what they read on the internet and analyse if online reports regarding the Genocide are accurate.
Sometimes Genocide deniers may slip in distortions here and there which can be picked up only if one is attentive to detail. Organisations like National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) can be consulted for any inquiries or clarifications needed,” he said.
Ruzindana Rugasa, the Commissioner in charge of information and mobilization in GAERG, an organization founded by former university students who survived the Genocide, denial as a whole can be countered through writing and recording the truth regarding it.
“We should fight denial on the same platform where it is conducted. If it is done on social media like twitter, then the response should be enforced there, let those who read find even the true accounts of the Genocide. If they write blogs or post books online, then counter blogs and reviews should be written exactly on that platform. Genocide deniers cannot be granted free reign online to continue distorting what even they know is the truth,” he said.
Gilbert Rwabigwi, leader of Youth Literacy Organization and a social media enthusiast, blogger and social commentator, told Sunday Times that it was imperative that the truth not be silenced.
“I think it’s always important to understand the motives of the perpetrator as most are driven by political motives. From there, the best responses that truly contradict and expose their lies can be established. We must always fight back with facts and never remain silent,” he said.
“The best way in my opinion is to be proactive - continue to document our story, encourage more Rwandans, especially survivors, to write about the genocide and keep engaging audiences across the globe,” Rwabigwi added.
Jeanine Munyeshuli, a founding member of “France Rwanda Genocide” an organisation created to shed light on France’s role in the Genocide, concurs citing that in the long run, the best way to confront online Genocide denial is to accumulate and share testimonies.
“We must - whenever possible - occupy the online space and give the microphone to survivors to tell their testimonies. In all kwibuka events, survivors must be given the floor. Let’s not make it a disembodied conversation between only experts,” she says.
“We must understand that the mere fact that there are survivors and Rwanda is moving forward is a blow to Genocide masterminds. So being present and assertive is important. We are putting presence and voice where they had planned to leave a void. We are already in a position of power even when they launch online attacks. They have the worst of crimes associated to their names, we have our lives, living testimonies of the fact that you can’t wipe out a people,” she adds.
Munyeshuli counsels those who counter Genocide denial to get to know who the interlocutor is and never respond to provocation on the same level because most of the time, they make wrong affirmations and/or flawed “questions”.
“Confront them with facts, testimonies. Don’t argue. Some deniers in my opinion deserve indifference, however, never ever ignore any statement by a major actor during the Genocide. We must not allow them to silence us today. We must collectively expose them,” she emphasized.
“Avoid generalisations and broadly educate yourself. Genocide documentation is a work in progress. Genocide denial is like a mutant virus- we must stay awake and read/learn the “novelties”. By all means, keep in mind that the fear must change camp. It took thousands to execute the crime but not so many to plan it. They may not have been brought to justice but they must know we are watching them and our country is stronger because we chose to move on united,” she adds.
To the international community, Munyeshuli said the accounts of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi should be incorporated in school curricula and everywhere in the Diaspora and they should also reach out to the officials so that survivors can speak in schools.
“The international community must refer to the Genocide by it real name ‘Genocide against the Tutsi’ as they write post after post or speak. Also there is need for restorative justice for survivors which is still absent,” she said.
She urged Rwandans holding Kwibuka and other informative events to analyze if where they intend to address can be a good platform for education regarding the Genocide in general. She presented three principles for this being education, collaboration and ownership.
“Even if our arguments are good, Kwibuka is a solemn and sacred duty of ours. It is up to us not to desecrate it by choosing our audience. By collaboration, I mean that whenever there is a panel discussing about Rwanda, there must be at least a Rwandan or Rwandan organization defending our interests and standing for the truth,” she explains.
“If there is a movie to show, a list of panelist among others, don’t attend the event if you are not knowledgeable enough. That’s part of ownership and a trick part of this struggle to preserve the truth. We cannot avoid the staging of the Genocide denial but let’s learn to outsmart those attempts,” she emphasizes.
Genocide denial is a slap in the face for survivors and the country as a whole and for that reason Rwandans and friends of Rwanda can’t stand by and permit perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and their accomplices to distort or deny it.
Whether online or otherwise, Genocide denial must be faced and countered head on to ensure that future generations don’t receive a distorted history regarding 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.