10 April 2012
International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda
Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
International Day of Reflection
On the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda
Palais des Nations, Room XIX
Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 16.00
Madam High Commissioner,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The need to prevent genocide and punish those responsible has been of concern to the international community since the Second World War. Yet the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, just 18 years ago, is a painful reminder that our efforts to root out such horrors must continue. The international day of reflection on the 1994 genocide remains a crucial day when we remember, we mourn, we learn, and we recommit to counter such evil in the future.
During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, more than 800,000 people perished. Many more were brutalized, leaving the country’s population traumatized, and its infrastructure decimated. The people and authorities of Rwanda have shown immense strength in moving on from this tragedy. This has included an ambitious justice and reconciliation process with the aim that all Rwandans will once again live side by side in peace. I also applaud the Government for its demonstrated commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, which constitute an important component of the country’s long-term development plan. This development and reconstruction has already had a strong positive impact on progress in the economic and social spheres. The impressive efforts of promoting gender equality and empowering women – who now make up more than 50% of the parliament – is particularly inspiring. Rebuilding trust and bridging gaps are critical to achieving sustainable development and lasting peace. In keeping with their efforts, we must all continue to look and to move forward, but today is an important opportunity to remember the tragedy of the genocide in Rwanda.
Genocide is not something that happens overnight or without warning. Understanding the way genocide occurs and learning to recognize signs that could lead to genocide are important in making sure that such horrors do not happen again.
As genocide is most likely to occur during war, one of the best ways to reduce the chances of genocide is to address the root causes of violence and conflict. We must fight against hatred, intolerance, racism, discrimination, tyranny, and the dehumanizing public discourse that denies whole groups of people their dignity and their rights.
The world cannot tolerate impunity for gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, a signal that is strongly conveyed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court and other international courts. Last month’s historic first ever verdict by the International Criminal Court sends a strong message to perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. The criminal prosecution of individuals such as Thomas Lubanga Dyilo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was found guilty of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children for hostilities, is an important step towards achieving the safer world that we all seek.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
18 years ago the international community was unable to prevent the atrocities in Rwanda. Those events will haunt the United Nations and the world for generations to come. Today we can assist in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Rwanda. This ceremony is an occasion to reiterate our commitment to do so.
As we take the time today to remember the horrors of the genocide, each of us must personally recommit to educating future generations. In 2009, Ms. Odile Katese – a Rwandan theatre director, actor, and writer – demonstrated the power of this personal reflection and commitment when she asked orphans, widows and imprisoned genocidaires to write to the dead. The “Book of Life,” the collection of these letters, now contains 100 letters from 100 individuals. It aims to build a bridge between death and life, the past and the future, despair and hope, torment and peace. I hope that you will all have the opportunity to look at some of these letters as a part of your personal commemoration.
As the Secretary-General mentioned in his message, our commemoration this year is focused on theme of “learning from history to shape a bright future”. Let us therefore leave today with renewed determination to do everything in our power – individually and collectively – to fight against intolerance and to counter conditions that may give rise to genocide. The United Nations Office at Geneva appreciates the opportunity to be a part of this effort by reaching out to local schools and encouraging reflection in the context of this day of commemoration. It is by transforming promises into concrete actions that we can truly honour the victims of the genocide in Rwanda and protect future generations.