Why Genocide denial should be fought across the region

It should be recalled that the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi is the genocide of the twentieth century.   The consequences of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda were horrific, but suffering and death was not limited to the victims. Millions of people were displaced, forced into refugee camps in Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi shows that when one group is targeted, all people are vulnerable.
Joseph Karorero
Joseph Karorero

It should be recalled that the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi is the genocide of the twentieth century. 

The consequences of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda were horrific, but suffering and death was not limited to the victims. Millions of people were displaced, forced into refugee camps in Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi shows that when one group is targeted, all people are vulnerable.

Today, in a world witnessing rising anti-Semitism and hate messages, awareness of this fact is critical. A society that tolerates hatred and anti-Semitism is susceptible to other forms of racism, hatred and oppression whose the final product is genocide.

It is an established fact that for every genocide committed, it is always followed by its negationism, denial and revisionism. Those who have created this network of denials have formed the group of the friends of evil who deliberately intend to falsify the history of genocide in Rwanda.

Dr Peter Bala Kian stated that: “Denials is the final stage of genocide, as it attempts to falsify history and create a counterfeit universe for the survivors and the legacies, and it must be studied and analysed in order to be exposed for their ethical problems it creates’’.

Denial of Genocide occurrence is not simply an attempt to rewrite the past. It is, as he so rightly observes, a deliberate effort to rewrite the past. According to Cohen, ‘’it is the destructive power of a lie.’’

Denial is an attempt to rewrite the past, it is, as he so rightly observes, a deliberate effort ‘’to control the present and shape the future’’. This is a deed accomplished only if one first alters the past–takes possession of it and robs it off its lessons.

Deniers engage in very dangerous hate-filled propaganda campaign while claiming to be advocating for human rights, truth, reconciliation, democracy and peace. But these democratic values are not goals they are truly striving to achieve because such ideals cannot be achieved on bed of lies and falsehoods.

The denial or distortion of genocide history is an assault on truth and understanding. Comprehension and memory of the past are crucial to how we understand ourselves, our society, and our goals for the future. Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.

It has been a tradition that before, during and after a week of commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, deniers of this heinous crime continue to water down the facts of the Genocide against the Tutsi. One of their intentions is, of course, to discourage the survivors of the Genocide as well as the Government that stopped it.

As we are commemorating the 19th Genocide commemoration, there is increase in speeches and writings that deny the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The deniers from the region and elsewhere seek to undermine its memory.

Documents from different sources at the individual level, governments and non- government organisations deliberately tend to write an entirely new history of the 1994 Genocide while denying its reality’’.

French author and physician Yves Termon says that the “denial of Genocide against the Tutsi happened even before 1994,’whereby the genocide ideology appeared in various forms as denial of reality’’.

Ever since the extremist Hutus who perpetrated the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda fled in face of the advance of Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) troops, the extremist Hutu government, supported by their allies from the region and the rest of the world, denied the systematic events and the causes or circumstances that led to the Genocide.

Instead, they argued that mass killings were a result of the war they (the Hutus) engaged in by fighting with the RPF; despite the ample documentation that exists regarding all aspects of the Genocide, the deniers persist in their denial.

The denial of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is in a way a continuation of genocide but using different weapons. Where in 1994, it was genocide carried out by machetes, guns and other physical traditional tools, today it is speeches and writings that cruelly cut through the hearts of survivors of the 1994 genocide and the entire nation of Rwanda.

Those who deny the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda do it deliberately, with intent of destroying the truth. However, it should be recalled that denial is not something new in history of genocide, and strategies to deny it has been the same starting with Holocaust to the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda.

The common character and which makes both exiled genocidaires and their allies so convincing and dangerous is the fact that behind all deception, they actually know the truth.

The growing number of internet sites associated with extremist hate groups are popping up and disseminating aberrant information.

Right now there is so much disinformation in the public domain that even the most discerning of scholars and astute politicians is easily confused about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

There are some clear indicators that the deniers in the region (EAC and the Great Lakes region) are getting support from western academics, politicians and journalists who, together, are sending hatred messages through the   websites and hence increase poisonous messages to regional member states and their people.

It is in this line of reasoning that Genocide denial has been stopped by European countries making it illegal. So, then why not have this in Africa and, more specifically in the East African Community?

Many countries also have broader laws that criminalise genocide denial. In addition, the European Union has issued a directive to combat racism and xenophobia, which makes provision for member states criminalising Holocaust denial, with a maximum prison sentence of between one to three years.

Scholars have pointed out those countries that specifically ban Holocaust such as Germany, France and Scandinavian countries, among others; denial generally has legal systems that limit speech in other ways, such as banning hate speech.

 According to D. Guttenplan, this is a split between the “common law in United States, Ireland and many British Commonwealth countries from the civil law countries of continental Europe and Scotland.”

This brings us to the final stage of genocide, the stage for us to sit up and pay attention, the stage for us to take stock of events, to rethink our strategies, to focus on the welfare of our progeny and, above all things, to reclaim our humanity.

The East African Community member states should create forums for combating acts of genocide denial and more specifically the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The East African Secretariat should initiate the forums and plan to prevent genocide denial involving the whole member state legal frame work.

This is the appropriate time for the regional member states to take it under obligation to prevent and punish the denial of 1994 genocide against Tutsi and other genocides.

Let combating denial of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi be the region’s moral obligation.

The writer is Researcher and a Genocide Scholar based in Kigali

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