RWANDA GENOCIDE ‘MUST LEAVE US ALWAYS WITH A SENSE OF BITTER REGRET AND ABIDING SORROW’, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL TO NEW YORK MEMORIAL CONFERENCE

26 March 2004
SG/SM/9223-AFR/870-HQ/631

RWANDA GENOCIDE ‘MUST LEAVE US ALWAYS WITH A SENSE OF BITTER REGRET AND ABIDING SORROW’, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL TO NEW YORK MEMORIAL CONFERENCE

26/03/2004
Press ReleaseSG/SM/9223 AFR/870 HQ/631

RWANDA GENOCIDE ‘MUST LEAVE US ALWAYS WITH A SENSE OF BITTER REGRET AND ABIDING

SORROW’, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL TO NEW YORK MEMORIAL CONFERENCE

Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks at the Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide, organized by the Governments of Canada and Rwanda in New York, 26 March:

The genocide in Rwanda should never, ever have happened.  But it did.  The international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow.

If the international community had acted promptly and with determination, it could have stopped most of the killing.  But the political will was not there, nor were the troops.

If the United Nations, government officials, the international media and other observers had paid more attention to the gathering signs of disaster, and taken timely action, it might have been averted.  Warnings were missed.  I recall a 1993 report by a United Nations special rapporteur that spoke specifically of an impending catastrophe.

The international community is guilty of sins of omission.  I myself, as head of the UN’s peacekeeping department at the time, pressed dozens of countries for troops.  I believed at that time that I was doing my best.  But I realized after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.  This painful memory, along with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has influenced much of my thinking, and many of my actions, as Secretary-General.

None of us must ever forget, or be allowed to forget, that genocide did take place in Rwanda, or that it was highly organized, or that it was carried out in broad daylight.  No one who followed world affairs or watched the news on television, day after sickening day, could deny that they knew a genocide was happening, and that it was happening on an appalling scale.

Some brave individuals tried to stop the killing, above all General Romeo Dallaire of Canada, who is here with us today, the force commander of the small UN peacekeeping force that was on the ground at the time.  They did all they could.  They were entitled to more help.

Eight hundred thousand men, women and children were abandoned to the most brutal and callous of deaths, as neighbour killed neighbour.  Sanctuaries such as churches and hospitals were turned into slaughterhouses.  An entire country was shattered.  A terrible chain of events gradually engulfed the entire region in conflict.

Ten years later, we are trying to pick up the pieces.

In Rwanda itself, the United Nations is doing its utmost to help people recover and reconcile.  We are present throughout the country -- clearing mines, repatriating refugees, rehabilitating clinics and schools, building up the judicial system, and much else.

In Tanzania, a United Nations criminal tribunal continues to pursue the main perpetrators of the genocide.  The tribunal has handed down pioneering verdicts:  the first conviction for genocide by an international court; the first to hold a former head of government responsible for genocide; the first to determine that rape was used as an act of genocide; and the first to find journalists guilty of genocide –- because they helped create the state of mind in which thousands of people could set aside the most fundamental moral instincts of all human society, and embark on the wholesale massacre of fellow human beings.

With these and other steps, the United Nations is doing what it can to help Rwanda find a path to lasting security and peace, with itself and its neighbours.  We cannot undo the past.  But we can help Rwandans, especially the young generation who are the future of the country, build a new society together.

The genocide in Rwanda raised questions that affect all humankind -- fundamental questions about the authority of the Security Council, the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping, the reach of international justice, the roots of violence, and the responsibility of the international community to protect people threatened by genocide and other grave violations of human rights.  There has been intense debate, and some genuine advances -- practical and philosophical -- on some of these questions over the past decade.  But still one must ask, are we confident that, confronted by a new Rwanda today, we can respond effectively, in good time?  We can by no means be certain we would.

I have suggested a number of measures that would better equip the United Nations and its MemberStates to meet genocide with resolve, including a special rapporteur or adviser on the subject.  More can and must be done, and I am currently analysing what further steps could be taken.  The silence that has greeted genocide in the past must be replaced by a global clamour -– a clamour and a willingness to call what is happening by its true name.

The General Assembly has designated 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda.  The Government of Rwanda, for its part, has asked that the world’s observance of the Day include a minute of silence at noon local time in each time zone.

Such a minute of silence has the potential to unite the world, however fleetingly, around the idea of global solidarity.  I have written to all the world’s heads of State and government, asking them, and especially their public servants, to honour it.  I have also instructed all UN offices, throughout the world, to take part.  Here today, I would like to urge all people, everywhere, no matter what their station in life, whether in crowded cities or remote rural areas, to set aside whatever they might be doing at noon on that day, and pause to remember the victims.  Let us be united in a way we were not 10 years ago.  And let us, by what we do in one single minute, send a message –- a message of remorse for the past, resolve to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again -– and let’s make it resound for years to come.

May the victims of the Rwandan genocide rest in peace.  May our waking hours be lastingly altered by their sacrifice.  And may we all reach beyond this tragedy, and work together to recognize our common humanity.  If we can accept that everyone on this earth, regardless of colour, creed, language or ethnicity is fully human -- and, as such, fully worthy of our interest, sympathy and acceptance –- we will have taken a giant step forward from dehumanization and toward a stronger sense of global kinship.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.