Preserving Memory to Honour Victims and to Deter Genocide Deniers

Posted: May 16, 2011 in Comment
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By Tom Ndahiro

There is a saying that only love beats milk. In our language, Kinyarwanda, the month of April is called Mata. Amata is milk. In April, 1994, Rwanda was soaked in the blood of the Tutsi.

The memories and lessons from the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda live with us. Despite the fact that these recollections are painful, they must be maintained by everyone who cares. This is the only way that humanity will be able to prevent similar genocides from ever happening again.

This Genocide occurred because the world failed to pay attention to the lessons of earlier genocides of the 20th century. The genocide we remember today started in April 1994. There had been other smaller genocides against the Tutsi, but this one was the real Hutu-power ‘final solution’ to the so-called ‘Tutsi problem’.

For many around the world, April is a month of transition: from winter into spring with a preview of summer, or from summer into fall with winter just around the corner. April is also the month of many dark memories which commemorates critical dates of the Holocaust, the Rwandan Tutsi, Bosnian, Armenian, and Cambodian genocides.

Being the most recent, the Rwandan Genocide should have stimulated authentic action on the part of the international community to insure that future genocidal policies and ideologies are never tolerated by anyone at anytime.

Nothing can prepare one for the cruelty and despicability of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It was an inhuman, horrendous, criminal and unrestrained bloodshed which lasted for 100 days under the watchful eyes of the entire human race.

Last year, anti-genocide activists dubbed April “Genocide Prevention Month” and planned a variety of events for the purpose of memorializing past genocides, stopping ongoing atrocities, and preventing future genocides…

As we commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi for the 17th time, the general theme in Rwanda is “Upholding the Truth; preserving our Dignity”. It is a solid and appealing idea that must continue to be turned into a reality.

As with any commemoration, it is necessary to be concerned about safeguarding truth and the preservation of human dignity. There is an inseparable relationship between genocide, dignity, memory and truth and that is why it must be commemorated.

Commemoration of the crime of genocide reinforces the message that human life has dignity and value.  Remembering such horrors requires victims to be reminded of their value as human beings. This is the case for both the dead and for survivors of genocide. Remembering provides the critical opportunity to tell men, women and children that they must be always ready to fight the evil embedded in the crime of exterminating others. Memory is our protection, because a crime forgotten is a crime repeated.

History is our witness. It is crucial that we remember to construct clear and unyielding connections between the past, present, and the future. We must also always be affirming our commitment to the restoration of dignity, the ability of all to live without fear, and the fight against impunity.

Denying the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire primed the Holocaust. It is no secret that shortly before the Holocaust, Hitler asked the horrific question, “Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” – (Hitler, August 22, 1939) Ignoring the rhetoric of hate filling the pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf made his future atrocities predictable.

There is little doubt that failing to learn and remember the lessons from the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust resulted into recurrent massacres against the Tutsi which culminated in the Rwandan genocide.

The Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda was horrific. It was dreadful, and closely mirrored the other genocides of the twentieth century. Commemoration reminds people of how far they have come and how far they have yet to go. What happened in 1994 will impact the Rwandan people for generations.  The trauma is ongoing and will require many years of painful healing.

On April 7, 2011, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon linked memory of genocide to its prevention. He said: “Preventing genocide is a collective and individual responsibility … The only way to truly honour the memory of those who perished in Rwanda 17 years ago is to ensure that such events can never take place again”.

We remember the international indifference. The world stood still and only involved by assisting genocidaires, and their families who crossed to the neighbouring countries, and high crust to other countries far from the Rwandan border..

Remembering the genocide brings inevitable suffering. Dreadful memories are painful and often result in further trauma. Memories of this kind are something no human should have to live with, and yet many have no choice.

In remembering the genocide, survivors endure the suffering brought about by loss of their loved ones. Most often you hear survivors who express deep confusion and regret about the fact that they survived.

This sad sentiment is often uttered by the elderly who finds themselves all alone as a result of the murder of their   children and grandchildren. Survivors cannot avoid this suffering, because they have to survive.

There cannot be prevention of genocide without recollection of the painful realities of what happened. It is the knowledge of what we experienced, what we witnessed, and what we learned about this crime that inspires   many of us to proclaim “never again”.

The pain survivors endure is magnified by those who have made it their lifelong and professional mission to deny that this crime ever occurred.  They do so by trivialising, rationalising or relativising genocide.

The repeated attempts to kill, or eradicate the truth regarding the Rwandan Genocide is anything but a message of hope to the Rwandan people.

The only hope we have is that genocide deniers remain a peripheral group, despite the work of some very vocal and poisonous individuals.

Human dignity appears in the second paragraph of the Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations as an ideal that “we the peoples of the United Nations” are “determined” to achieve. The Preamble clearly indicates that the goal of the United Nations is “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.

The term dignity is also included in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

In other human rights instruments, we find the expression “respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. For example, Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that “[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. A similar provision is found in Article 5 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

One of the fundamental phases of genocide is dehumanisation, which is the removal of all dignity from those members of the targeted group.

For the Tutsi, this process started in 1959.  In an attempt to portray the Tutsi as less than human, they were systematically labelled with all  types of zoological names (leeches, snakes, cockroaches) and disease terminologies (cancer, pneumonia…).

There are those who still deny there was a genocide against the Tutsi. Some agents of genocide deniers insist on a “double” genocide. Yet the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2006 ruled the Genocide against the Tutsi was “a part of world history” and “a classic instance of a ‘fact of common knowledge’”.

While commemorating, we should take into account the following significant elements of our history;  1) the History of Rwanda and the Rwandan people, 2) the beginning of racist and discriminatory policies which culminated in genocide, 3) Genocide plans and preparations for the extermination of the Tutsi, 4) The various people personally associated with the Genocide, including those who were killed during Genocide, survivors, individuals  who rescued the Tutsi, bystanders, and perpetrators of this hateful crime, and 5) Genocidal propaganda and discourse.

In the fight against these assassins of factual history, none should be so naive to believe that there will ever be a world devoid of those who deny Genocide.

These accomplices and defenders of genocide have attempted to make academia the backbone of their heinous enterprise, disguised as “objective” scholarly inquiry, human rights activism, or even genocide survivors.

Their foremost mission is to rewrite history to rehabilitate genocidaires. They claim that those guilt and behaviour of those responsible for the mass murders are exaggerated and even fictional.

The deniers attempt to point the finger of guilt at members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front who saved the Tutsi from extinction.

Genocide remembrance is about much more than memorializing those who have perished. The many lives lost are best honoured when their memory is honoured and their suffering becomes a catalyst for action to end the scourge of genocide, while also protecting others from meeting a similar fate.

This requires more than solemn speeches and inspirational rhetoric. Academics, journalist, and leaders around the globe must be persuaded to take concrete measures in keeping the often made promises of “never again”. The first step in assuring that genocide is never repeated must be to identify and expose genocide deniers.

It is hard to write or speak about this subject. It is an issue that is almost impossible to introduce and conclude since no words can serve to prepare for the manifestation of this evil.

This genocide was a shocking experience, for collective shame. No expression; however profound, can do justice to what has happened, and the legacy it continues propagate.

It is up to those who care about commemoration, not to let the world forget that genocide denial is the condoning of a horrific crime against humanity.

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