The Jewish community in London marked the 22nd anniversary of the beginning of the Genocide against Tutsi on Sunday.
World Jewish Relief, in partnership with JW3, a London Jewish Cultural Centre, held an event to explore the shared history of Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and the Holocaust.
Amb. Yamina Karitanyi, the Rwandan High Commissioner to the UK, told the audience that commemoration has a dual significance today, in regards to “remembering what was lost, and fighting against Genocide denial.”
Over 100 guests heard how the Genocide had claimed the lives of more than a million people between April and July 1994 in just 100 days of targeted killing.
According to a statement, Karitanyi responded to questions about causes of the Genocide, giving a chronological account of premeditated and prejudiced politics from 1930s when Belgian colonialists introduced identity cards which broke the social fabric of a cohesive Rwandan society into ethnic polarisation namely; Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.
“Consequently, Rwanda became politically fragile plunging into political unrests in 50s and a fatal post-independence conflict in early 60s forcing hundreds of thousands of Rwandans mainly Tutsi to flee to neighbouring countries,” Amb. Karitanyi said.
“Over decades, identity cards were continuously used as genocide apparatuses to identify, target, discriminate and persecute the Tutsi leading to mass atrocities in 1994.”
The High Commissioner abhorred the role of hate media during Genocide.
She narrated how RTLM radio broadcasts listed the people to be killed and instructed the dreaded Interahamwe militia and government forces on where to find them.
Karitanyi further explained that regardless of the role of hate media during the Genocide, the post-Genocide media in Rwanda has been involved in rebuilding the country.
“Despite the role of hate media during Genocide, the (post-Genocide) government could not infringe on freedoms of speech and media,” Karitanyi added.
Guests heard the testimony of Isaac Mugabe, a survivor whose father was tortured and beaten to death. His mother was kidnapped, raped and died in the process. His extended family was all brutally murdered.
Mugabe somehow survived in hiding and fleeing from place to place, braving hunger, rain and the cold.
Mugabe was just 10-years-old at the time and became responsible for his five-year old brother and two sisters, three and one.
Like Mugabe, over 80,000 other children in Rwanda were forced to become head of their households as a result of the Genocide.
“I was the only one who could support my young brother and sisters,” Mugabe said, adding that, “I realised that the best way to honour my lost loved ones was to improve my life, and that of my siblings as well as help my fellow young Rwandans to fulfil their potential and lead a dignified life.”
Today Mugabe is a director at a Rwandan NGO, Uyisenga Ni Imanzi.
Since 2014, he has implemented World Jewish Relief’s flagship livelihood development project in Rwanda which is helping transform Rwandan vulnerable young people into successful agricultural entrepreneurs.
Funded by World Jewish Relief and Comic Relief, the project has already mobilised more than 1,000 young people to substantially increase their income and that of their families.
At the event in London, Richard Verber, World Jewish Relief’s Head of External Affairs, spoke of the tragic past shared by the Rwandan and Jewish communities. About 70 per cent of the Jewish population was wiped out in the Holocaust.
“Genocide denial affects both communities and rubs salt into wounds which have not yet healed,” Verber said.
“World Jewish Relief is motivated to work in Rwanda because of our shared community’s experience of genocide. How could we not help? If ‘never again’ is to mean anything, it has to mean helping others who have suffered too.”
Amb. Karitanyi lauded the World Jewish Relief for hosting the commemoration event and commended the existing “friendship” between Rwandans and Jewish Communities in the UK.
“It is important to pause and remember the victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi, and to take our role as citizens of the world seriously, by applying two key principles: the responsibility to protect, and fighting genocide ideology and denial.”