A commemorative event to mark the 15th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi was organized at the UN Geneva by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda in Geneva in collaboration with United Nations Office at Geneva.
The event consisted of a panel of speakers, the lighting of the Candle of Hope for Rwanda, the launch of the “One Dollar Campaign”, and the inauguration of an exhibition entitled “100 Nights” prepared by Aegis Trust of London on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and the healing process that followed.
The event attended by a large number of Ambassadors, Permanent representatives in Geneva, Heads of International Organisations and NGO based in Geneva; political leaders, members of the Rwandan Diaspora in Switzerland and many friends of Rwanda.
The speakers at the Panel included, the Director General of the UN Office in Geneva, Mr. Sergei Ordhonkidze, the UN High Commission for Human Rights, Ms Navenethem Pillay, the Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Rwanda, Mme Venetia Sebudandi, Ms Catherine Coquio, a French Academic who has researched extensively on the Genocide against the Tutsi and its negationism and revisionism.
Other speakers included Ms Berthe Kayitesi, a Survivor, currently studying in Canada, the President of IBUKA Memory and Justice (Swiss Section) Dr. Michel Gakuba and Dr. Paul Rwakabayiza, President of the Rwandan Diaspora in Switzerland who officially launched the “One Dollar Campaign”.
The Director General of the UN Office Geneva led the participants in observing a “One Minute of Silence” in honour of the victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi. In his message the Director General said.
“We cannot – and must not – diminish, or in any way distort, the scale or significance of what happened, regardless of how painful it may be to face the truth. The Genocide was a negation of our very humanity. If we now negate it as a historical reality, we perpetuate the very forces that enabled it to take place – and we allow the inhumanity to continue. Denial is the first step towards another descent into the abyss. We must not let that happen,” he said.
“This solemn commemoration is also our opportunity to highlight the resilience of the Rwandan people. Today, we salute their resolve to come to terms with the past as a way to rebuild their country and re-establish their communities through reconciliation. We pledge to bring justice to all those affected by the brutality of the genocide because putting an end to impunity is indispensable for prevention.
“We pay tribute to the survivors who continue to live with the deep physical and emotional scars of the calamity. They continue to need our unwavering support.
The “One Dollar Campaign” illustrates the commitment of the people of Rwanda to the survivors, and their common determination not to forget, but to face the legacy of the genocide. The campaign shows the role that each individual can play in this process, Ordhonkidze noted.
“We must all speak up and act in the face of intolerance and bigotry that may lay the foundation for genocidal crimes. As the international community, we must reinforce our efforts in detecting and evaluating warnings of imminent genocide, in peacemaking, not least in conflicts with a racial, ethnic or religious dimension, and in the promotion and protection of human rights to shoulder our shared responsibility. We cannot afford complacency; the risk of future genocides persists. The lessons of the Rwandan Genocide are universal, unequivocal and undeniable. Speaking out and educating about the genocide compels all nations and people to recommit to preventing similar atrocities. It is the highest and most appropriate tribute that we could pay to the victims. Today, we light a candle in their honour. Let us pledge – together – to always shine a light on acts of genocide and never hide in the shadow when called upon to act. We owe it to each and every one of them to translate our rhetoric into reality,” he ended.
Ambassador Venetia Sebudandi in her message recalled the immense challenges that the Government and people of Rwanda faced in rebuilding the nation after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and noted the positive results the country has registered in all areas notably in justice and reconciliation, in socio-economic and political development and in establishing peace and security and the rule of law.
She highlighted the important role played by the Gacaca process in rendering justice and fostering truth and reconciliation.
She said Rwanda has invested in the reform and modernisation of her justice system including education and training of its personnel so as to bring it to international standards, including the abolition of the death penalty.
The Ambassador called on the UN to grant Rwanda’s request to take up the remaining cases and the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) when it winds up and have the convicted prisoners serve their prison sentences in Rwanda as provided for by the UN Resolution 955 of 8 November 1994 which set up the ICTR.
Sebudandi called on the Representatives of the International Community present to help combat Genocide impunity by urging countries which are harbouring perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi to arrest them and bring them to justice.
She decried the rampant practice of negationism, revision and trivialisation of the Genocide against the Tutsi going on openly especially in Europe and North America, in the media, in conferences and on the internet and said that Rwanda has chosen as the theme for this 15th commemoration to fight against the negationism, revisionism and trivialisation of the Genocide against the Tutsi so as to bring its dangers to light and intensify the fight against it.
She added that the denial and revisionism of the Genocide against the Tutsi was in effect a defamation of the victims and that it was hampering efforts aimed at genocide prevention and national reconciliation in Rwanda.
She called on the International community, widely represented in Geneva, to use all possible avenues including the Human Rights Council and their respective governments to combat negationism, revisionism and trivialisation of the Genocide committed against the Tutsi.
In her remarks the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navenethem Pillay, a former Judge and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) paid homage to the witnesses who came forward with harrowing accounts of atrocities.
“These individuals refused to remain silent and tacitly tolerant about violations of human rights. Their testimony helped to dismantle barriers to dialogue and to mend and restore the very foundations of peaceful coexistence, for it is the establishment of truth that fosters reconciliation. In expressing their grief and horror, survivors in Rwanda did not choose the barren path of wanton revenge, but that of justice and thereby cleared the way for communal rebuilding. They sought the help of the international community to bolster their efforts. These are the heroes whose courage gives life to the rule of law as a standard of human conduct in the world,” Pillay noted.
Catherine Coquio focussed her intervention on the theme of denial, revisionism and trivialisation of Genocide against the Tutsi and gave an elaborate expert analysis of the negation of Genocide in its various angles, analysing the discourse of the perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi and their supporters such as Pierre Pean.
She pointed out that the French military and political support was another form of denial of Genocide and made reference to the refuge camps in Congo which were totally controlled by those who committed Genocide and yet attracted more attention than the victims of Genocide, such compassion was also a formal of denial.
Ms Berthe Kayitesi gave a moving account of her miraculous survival in 1994 in which she lost her parents and some of her siblings. She was 15 years old. After the Genocide she became head of the family of her surviving siblings.
She is currently pursuing a Doctorate Degree in Canada and has just published a book on her experience as a survivor and a child head of the family in the post genocide Rwanda.