World has failed to learn from Rwanda’s genocide


Twenty-five years ago, the international community stood by and watched as genocide in Rwanda devastated the country, leaving lasting scars. Neighbour turned on neighbour in 100 days of bloodshed, fuelled by a campaign demonising members of the Tutsi minority. Radio broadcasts were used to spread ethnic hatred and incitement to murder.

Between the start of the genocide on April 7 1994 and the end of the massacres in July the same year, about 800 000 people were killed. Thousands of people were tortured, raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence.

The victims were primarily Tutsi, who had been singled out for elimination, as well as Hutu opposed to the genocide and the forces that directed it.

Although the immediate catalyst for the killings was the shooting down of the plane carrying the president, dictator Juvénal Habyarimana, over Kigali on the night of April 6, the genocide had been a long time in the planning.

For years, Hutu leaders and hardliners fanned the flames of ethnic tensions in a pattern that has become all too familiar around the world — the scapegoating of one group by another.

They went beyond populist propaganda and rhetoric to provide training and distributed arms to their supporters, including the Interahamwe militia — the youth wing of Habyarimana’s party, the National Republican Movement for Development, which was the only legal political party in the country at the time.

Despite the scale of the atrocities committed, the international community failed to intervene. Two weeks into the genocide, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the United Nations Security Council voted to reduce the number of peacekeepers in Rwanda rather than to step up efforts to end the massacres.

READ MORE: Debating media’s role in driving Rwanda’s genocide

Only after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) had taken control of the country — under President Paul Kagame, the armed wing of the RPF put an end to the genocide — did the world’s leaders find their voices and say: “Never again.”

And yet, too often on this most painful anniversary, have my colleagues and I paused to take stock and been confronted with the shameful reality that the world has not learned the lessons of the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

In the 25 years since the genocide, the world has witnessed countless crimes under international law as well as human rights violations. These are often fuelled by the same politics of demonisation and the tactics of exclusion.

When domestic institutions fail to respect the rule of law and human rights, we expect our global systems to step in, but often they have not been strong enough to stop atrocities.

In August 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing on the predominantly Muslim Rohingya people in Rakhine state, after decades of state-sponsored discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya. Villages were burned to the ground, women and children were raped and thousands were killed. To date, more than 720 000 people have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

READ MORE: Rohingya crisis: This is what genocide looks like

Just last month, the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, reminded us of the lethal danger of allowing the politics of demonisation to go unchecked.

We can also learn important lessons from that appalling tragedy. New Zealand’s response, at political and community levels, has equally reminded us of the transformative power of standing up collectively and refusing to be cowed by a hateful ideology.

On this terrible anniversary, we stand in solidarity with the victims, their families and the survivors of the Rwanda genocide in their sorrow.

READ MORE: Rwanda: 25 years after genocide, politics of demonisation as dangerous as ever

But if we truly want to honour the memories of those killed in the genocide, we must hold our leaders accountable and ensure that they apply the lessons from the failure to stop the genocide — both in domestic political discourse and in their international engagements.

We must demand a definitive end to the divisive politics of “us versus them”.

“Never again” should mean never again.

Joan Nyanyuki is Amnesty International’s director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes region

Joan Nyanyuk
Joan Nyanyuki
Dr Joan Nyanyuki is Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes region.

The business of unfinished business

Physical and psychological violence will continue unless we self-reflect on our apartheid scars

Coronavirus: South Africa will evacuate citizens from Wuhan

The government is expected to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak originated

Primedia CEO Essack leaves following internal battles

Omar Essack leaves the 702 and 94.7 owners after a protracted standoff with the board

‘We’re satisfied with SA’s land reform policy’— US Ambassador

Top US official is lobbying multinational firms to invest in South Africa

Press Releases

Tourism can push Africa onto a new path – minister

The continent is fast becoming a dynamic sought-after tourist destination

South Africa’s education system is broken and unequal, and must be fixed without further delay

The Amnesty International report found that the South African government continues to miss its own education upgrading targets

Business travel industry generates billions

Meetings Africa is ready to take advantage of this lucrative opportunity

Conferences connect people to ideas

The World Expo and Meetings Africa are all about stimulating innovation – and income

SAB Zenzele Kabili B-BBEE share scheme

New scheme to be launched following the biggest B-BBEE FMCG payout in South Africa’s history

Digging deep

Automation is unstoppable, but if we're strategic about its implementation, it presents major opportunities

TFSAs are the gymnasts of the retirement savings world

The idea is to get South Africans to save, but it's best to do your research first to find out if a TFSA is really suited to your needs

Achieving the litmus test of social relevance

The HSS Awards honours scholarly works based on their social relevance and contribution to the humanities and social sciences