International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda
Mr. Murangira [President of IBUKA],
Mrs. Galinier [Survivor],
Ms. Burckhardt [Poet],
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us virtually for the commemoration of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. I am humbled to address you today on this solemn and moving occasion.
Every year, here in Geneva, we come together to pay tribute to the victims, to pledge our support to the survivors and to recognize the remarkable determination of the people of Rwanda in rebuilding their lives and their country.
I would like to sincerely thank Ambassador Rwakazina and her team for joining forces with us to perpetuate this important tradition at the Palais des Nations, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is now my privilege to share with you the message of the Secretary-General on this important occasion:
“This year marks 27 years since more than one million people were systematically murdered in less than three months in Rwanda.
They were overwhelmingly Tutsi, but also Hutu and others who opposed the genocide.
Those days in 1994 remain in our collective conscience as among the most horrific in recent human history.
On this Day, we honour those who were murdered, we reflect on the suffering and we recognize the resilience of those who survived.
As we join in solidarity with the people of Rwanda, we must take a hard look at today’s world and ensure that we heed the lessons of 27 years ago.
Today, around the globe, people are threatened by extremist groups determined on boosting their ranks through social polarization and political and cultural manipulation.
These extremist movements represent the principal security threat in many countries.
While the technology and techniques that extremists use are evolving, the vile messages and rhetoric remain the same.
The dehumanization of communities, misinformation and hate speech are stoking the fires of violence.
The Covid-19 pandemic underscores the urgency of addressing deepening divides.
The global health crisis has profoundly affected the entire spectrum of human rights in every region, further fueling discrimination, social polarization and inequalities – all of which can lead to violence and conflict.
We saw what happened in Rwanda in 1994, and we know the horrific consequences when hate is allowed to prevail.
Preventing history from repeating itself requires countering these hate-driven movements that have become a transnational threat.
We must redouble our efforts, and forge a Common Agenda, to renew and reinvigorate our collective actions going forward.
In doing this, we must defend human rights and continue to push for policies that fully respect all members of society.
Rwanda experienced one of the most painful chapters in modern human history, but its people have rebuilt from the ashes.
After suffering unspeakable gender-based violence and discrimination, Rwanda’s women now hold more than 60 per cent of parliamentary seats – making Rwanda a world leader.
The people of Rwanda have shown us the power of justice and reconciliation, and the possibility of progress.
On this solemn Day, let us all commit to building a world guided by human rights and dignity for all.”
That was the end of the Secretary-General’s message.
Allow me now to add a few remarks of my own on this important occasion.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Twenty-seven years ago began one of humankind’s darkest chapters: the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, as well as the killings of Hutu and others who opposed it. More than one million people were slaughtered – women and men, infants and children. Many others were injured, raped and traumatized. The scale and impact of this atrocity are overwhelming.
In their greatest hour of need, the world failed the people of Rwanda.
This tragedy remains a stain on our collective conscience.
Today, as we remember and honour the victims, we must not forget that the imperative to prevent genocide lies at the core of our Organization. This is evidenced by the adoption of the Genocide Convention, the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.
Over seventy years later, the guiding principles of the Convention are more relevant than ever as we work to prevent genocide and atrocity crimes – crimes which are sadly still being perpetrated with alarming frequency around the world.
We are witnessing a resurgence in xenophobia, racism and intolerance. As mentioned by the Secretary-General, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed longstanding social fractures and polarization. This not only challenges human rights norms and principles, but also undermines social cohesion, erodes shared values and lays the foundation for violence – setting back the cause of peace, stability, and the fulfilment of human rights for all.
The United Nations works every day to learn the lessons of Rwanda and to prevent any recurrence of such a horror. The Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is committed to advancing national and international efforts to protect populations from genocide and other crimes against humanity. We are also strengthening our capacities for mediation, fact-finding, preventive diplomacy and the peaceful settlement of disputes.
However, strengthening prevention goes well beyond legislative frameworks, early warning mechanisms and strengthening capacities of local authorities to take action. It must also include greater efforts to promote human rights and tolerance, such as through the UN Secretary-General’s “2020 Call to Action for Human Rights”, which was launched here in Geneva last year. Religious leaders and civil society organizations also play a pivotal role in genocide prevention.
The most powerful and poignant voices for better prevention are the survivors. We are privileged to have with us today Mrs. Nadia Galinier who will share her testimony. Her personal story demonstrates the resilience and great strength of the people of Rwanda.
We need to ensure that the individual stories of the survivors become our shared memory and serve as the basis for action.
I hope that Mrs. Galinier’s story, as well as the stories of the countless other courageous survivors, will inspire leaders throughout the world to display the required political will to take early action in the face of human rights violations that oftentimes escalate into atrocity crimes.
I hope these stories give us, as official representatives and ordinary human beings, the strength to speak up against discrimination and intolerance, wherever we witness hate.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
One million innocent people lost their lives in the genocide in Rwanda. Today, we honour their memory.
As we look ahead to accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, let us draw from the lesson of Rwanda. Let us vow to ensure that their legacy will be instrumental in bringing about an international order built on justice and empowerment, human rights and respect for all.
Thank you very much.
The video of the event is available here.