United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda by asserting that preventing genocide was the most important collective response to the tragedy.
“Only by meeting this challenge can we match the resolve of the survivors and truly honour the memory of those who died in Rwanda 15 years ago,” he said in a message.
The UN News Centre recalls that April 1994 saw the beginning of a slaughter in the tiny East African country in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates died, mostly by machete, during a period of less than 100 days.
The UN observed the anniversary with a mid-day reading of the testimonies of survivors of the genocide, coinciding with similar events taking place in Congo, Australia, South Africa, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan.
Two photography exhibits on Rwandan survivors were also be launched in the visitor`s lobby of UN Headquarters in New York.
One exhibit, entitled Visions of Rwanda: Images of Survival, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Hope,” documents the 2007 coming together of 12 survivors, including orphans, widows, rape and assault victims, a judge and perpetrators, some of whom were responsible for the killing of family members of other participants.
The other – “Intended Consequences: Photographs and Interviews by Jonathan Torgovnik” –portrays the ordeals of several Rwandan women who bore children conceived by rape during the massacres.
“The resounding voices of survivors touch us in ways that no other words could,” Mr. Ban commented in his message, adding that they also depict a country moving toward reconciliation.
“Yet the silence of the more than 800,000 innocent victims still haunts our collective conscience,” he said.
Speaking at the Ban described actions that he said the UN has been taking on many fronts to prevent further atrocities and to secure justice for victims.
He stressed that the establishment of anti-genocide treaties and courts such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, “put other would-be genocidaires on notice that their crimes would not go unpunished.”
UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, are now mandated to protect civilians threatened by ex-Armed Forces of Rwanda/Interahamwe in the country’s east, which includes some of the same people who fled Rwanda after orchestrating the genocide.
He added that Francis Deng, his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, is constantly monitoring the world for any signs of a potential genocide, “ready to alert the international community so it can move quickly and decisively in response.”
Also speaking at the ceremony, General Assembly President Miguel D`Escoto urged the international community to continue to learn from the Rwandan experience and to explore the roots of ethnic conflict and racism, in order to prevent future tragedies.
“If we are not aware of the injustices and grievances inherent in our economic and social systems, we will certainly continue to reap the harvest of death and destruction they have sown,” he warned.
For that reason, he urged all Member States to support the upcoming Durban Review Conference, which would be “a testament to the resolve or lack of resolve of each and all of us together, at this juncture in history, to combat and eliminate all manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
The 20 to 24 April conference in Geneva will assess progress since the landmark 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in South Africa.