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30 Years of Rwandan Genocide: The Retrospection and Lessons Humanity Must Grasp

30 Years of Rwandan Genocide: The Retrospection and Lessons Humanity Must Grasp

09-06-2024
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During a solemn assembly in Kigali last month, in April 2024, marking three decades since the Rwandan Genocide, President Paul Kagame delivered a poignant address. He castigated the global community for its failure—stemming from either disdain or timidity—to intervene during one of humanity's darkest episodes. The genocide witnessed the massacre of approximately 800,000 individuals, a consequence of crimes against humanity fueled by ethnic animosity and division.

The recent memorial service at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, commemorating this tragedy, serves as a grim reminder of our collective responsibility to prevent the recurrence of such atrocities. It underscores the imperative to confront and eradicate the underlying causes of genocide: entrenched ethnic prejudice, societal fragmentation, and a lack of tolerance.

30 years of unspoken truth

Three decades have elapsed since the harrowing events of 1994, when Rwanda was plunged into the abyss of genocide. The origins of this atrocity can be traced back to the Rwandan Civil War, which itself was a manifestation of longstanding ethnic discord between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. This discord had been simmering for years, fueled by disputes over governance and political dominance.

The year 1962 saw the displacement of the Tutsi monarchy by a republic dominated by the Hutus. In response, Tutsis, who had been forced into exile in Uganda, coalesced to form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and in 1990, they launched an incursion into northern Rwanda.

Fast forward to 1994, and the RPF found itself accused of orchestrating the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu. The circumstances surrounding the downing of his aircraft remain shrouded in mystery to this day.

The aftermath of President Habyarimana's demise was catastrophic: a brutal campaign of violence ensued, orchestrated by Hutu extremists against Tutsi civilians, as well as moderate Hutus and various political figures. The toll was staggering—approximately 800,000 lives were extinguished, and sexual violence was perpetrated against an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women.

On the occasion of the 30th commemoration, Rwanda observed a week of mourning, a sombre reflection on the past. The ceremonies were attended by international dignitaries, including former US President Bill Clinton, who acknowledged the genocide as a profound failing of his tenure.

The enormity of the tragedy in Rwanda marked by mass deaths, displacement, and the scourge of ethnic cleansing—serves as a stark reminder of the imperative to combat genocidal ideologies. Such ideologies must remain at the forefront of public awareness and continue to be a focal point for scholarly and policy-oriented discussions.

In the interest of preventing future atrocities akin to those witnessed in Rwanda, it is incumbent upon the global community to confront and address the underlying factors and root causes that give rise to such destructive ideologies.

Genocide to be remembered worldwide

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as established by the United Nations, characterizes genocide as any of five deliberate acts aimed at the partial or complete annihilation of a group based on nationality, religion, ethnicity, or race. These heinous acts range from the murder of group members to the infliction of mental harm, the imposition of life conditions calculated to bring about a group’s destruction, the imposition of measures intended to prevent births, and the forced transfer of children away from their group.

In the current climate, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are enduring what can be described as a paradigmatic instance of genocide. The ongoing conflict has tragically resulted in the deaths of no fewer than 25,000 individuals, leading to the nation of Gambia bringing forth a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice in the year 2022.

Similarly, the continuous aggressive actions by Israel against the Palestinian minority in Gaza have been suggested to meet the criteria for genocide, as per the report by Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories.

Reflecting upon the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, it becomes evident that there are invaluable lessons for the global community to absorb in order to avert comparable tragedies in Myanmar, Palestine, and beyond.

Taking minorities as a whole

In the annals of history, the tragedy of Rwanda stands as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of unchecked prejudice and bigotry. The majority population targeted ethnic minorities for their own parochial gains, a situation exacerbated by the lack of accountability for the deep-seated biases that were causing societal unrest and potential violence. The Hutu government, in particular, exploited propaganda warfare to an alarming extent, using it as a tool to rationalize the horrific massacre of the Tutsi population and those who stood with them.

In today's world, while instances of state-sponsored hate speech are relatively rare, the societal-level propagation of prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities is unfortunately still prevalent in certain nations. This serves as an enabling factor for potential violence and discrimination.

A case in point is the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. As per a recent report by the Washington, DC-based India Hate Lab, there were an average of nearly two anti-Muslim hate speech incidents every day in 2023. Disturbingly, about 68 percent of these incidents occurred in states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It's important to note that the BJP government does not advocate for genocide against India's Muslim minority, as was the case with the Hutus' actions against the Tutsis in Rwanda. However, the rising trend of hate speech is occurring under the administration of a prime minister who has been implicated in the 2002 Gujarat riots. These riots resulted in the deaths of at least 1,000 individuals, predominantly Muslims. The three-day period of violence has been characterized as a pogrom by Genocide Watch. This situation underscores the urgent need for vigilance and action against hate speech and discrimination.

Political unwillingness

The international community's lack of action in the face of genocide is a stark reminder of the apathy that prevailed in 1994. Instead of turning a blind eye to violence, it is incumbent upon nations to unite and exert pressure on governments that are implicated in crimes against humanity.

This responsibility extends beyond mere moral obligation. The failure to confront and address the root causes, such as hatred and societal divisions that lead to genocide is a violation of the fundamental principles of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, established in the aftermath of World War II.

In the context of Rwanda, neither the African Union nor France, its ally, can exonerate themselves from their inaction. The inability to halt the massacres has been attributed by President Emmanuel Macron to a deficiency in political will.

The harsh reality is that the international community must shoulder the full burden of responsibility for its failure to prevent the systematic persecution of an ethnic group that is often the target of state-sponsored oppression. A common tactic employed to facilitate genocide is the obfuscation and denial of strategies aimed at targeting minority ethnic groups, a strategy reminiscent of the actions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration in Palestine.

Through the propagation of hate speech, derogatory narratives, and fear, Palestinians have been dehumanized in the eyes of many in the international community, rendering them unworthy of salvation.
The ongoing genocide in Gaza, following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, serves as a grim testament to the world's failure to learn from history. It is imperative for the international community to address the factors that enable such atrocities, including majority rule, the perpetuation of hate, ethnic discrimination, community degradation, and social exclusion.

The most fitting tribute to the victims of the Rwandan genocide would be to condemn state aggression, impose sanctions on countries like Israel, and strive to foster societies that are more tolerant, inclusive, and cohesive worldwide.

References:

01 Lawal, Shola. (2024, April 7). Remembering the Rwandan genocide 30 years on – how did it happen? Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/7/30-years-on-what-led-to-the-rwandan-genocide#:~:text=It%20has%20been%20three%20decades,darkest%20episodes%20in%20world%20history.

02 MUHUMUZA, RODNEY & SSUUNA, IGNATIUS. (2024, April 7). Kagame blames the world’s inaction as Rwanda commemorates the 1994 genocide with lingering scars. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/rwanda-genocide-anniversary- commemoration- 6322893ec 7fa443177a 70e00 f79 6dfc9

03 Dahir, Abdi Latif. (2024, April 7). Thirty Years After a Genocide in Rwanda, Painful Memories Run Deep. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/07/world/africa/rwanda-genocide-thirty-years.html

04 Alkatout, Josef. (2024, April 7). The judicial legacy of the Rwandan genocide: 30 years of double standards. Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2024/4/7/the-judicial-legacy-of-the-rwandan-genocide-30-years-of-double-standards

05 Marhnouj, Safiyah. (2024, April 8). Rwandan community marks 30 years since genocide, vows not to forget 'lessons of the past'. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/30-years-rwandan-genocide-ottawa-1.7166176

06 Girinema, Philbert. (2024, April 7). Rwanda's president leads genocide commemoration 30 years on. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/rwandas-president-leads-genocide-commemoration-30-years-2024-04-07/
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Md Murtajul Islam
Md Murtajul Islam is a renowned scholar specializing in international law, international politics, human rights, and labor rights
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