|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Secretary-General, at Genocide Commemoration Ceremony, Hails Resilience
of Survivors, Saying Rwanda Has Shown ‘Transformation Is Possible’
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the ceremony marking the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, in Kigali today:
Kuri jye, ni icyubahiro cyinshi kuba ndi kumwe namwe kuri uyu munsi ukomeye mu mateka y’u Rwanda. [I am deeply honoured to be here on this important day for Rwanda.] I am profoundly honoured and humbled to join the people of Rwanda and so many leaders from around the world.
The genocide in Rwanda that targeted the Tutsi was one of the darkest chapters in human history. More than 800,000 people were systematically killed, overwhelmingly the Tutsi, and also moderate Hutu, Twa and others. The blood spilled for 100 days. Twenty years later, the tears still flow. I express my solidarity with all Rwandans as you continue your journey of healing. I also recognize the devastating consequences that the wider region continues to feel.
I have come to Rwanda many times as United Nations Secretary-General. I have met survivors. I have listened to harrowing stories of cruelty and suffering. On my first visit to the Gisozi Memorial, I heard and felt the silence of death. The silence of all those lost, and the silence of the international community in your hours of greatest need. Many United Nations personnel and others showed remarkable bravery. But we could have done much more. We should have done much more.
In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed. One year later in Srebrenica, areas proclaimed “safe” by the United Nations were filled with danger and innocents were abandoned to slaughter. The shame still clings, a generation after the events. Today, Syria is in flames and the Central African Republic is in chaos.
The world has yet to fully overcome its divisions, its indifference, its moral blind spots. At the same time, there is progress that gives hope. Under the responsibility to protect, States can no longer claim that atrocity crimes are only a domestic matter. International criminal justice is expanding its reach. Leaders and warlords alike face the growing likelihood of prosecution for their crimes. The remarkable work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has shown once again how justice is indispensable for sustainable peace. And I have launched a call to the United Nations system and the international community to put human rights up front.
Since genocide takes planning, human rights violations must be seen as early warning signals of conflict and mass atrocities. I have sent my own signal to United Nations representatives around the world. My message to them is simply this: when you see people at risk of atrocity crimes, do not wait for instructions from afar; speak up, even if it may offend. Act. Our first duty must always be to protect people — to protect human beings in need and distress.
That is what we have done recently in South Sudan. Thousands were fleeing for their lives in the latest round of fighting. The United Nations opened the gates of its peacekeeping bases to shelter them. The situation remains fragile. But many thousands of people are alive today thanks to this open gates approach — a lesson of Rwanda made real. We are sure to face other grave challenges to our common values. And we must meet them. We must not be left to utter the words “never again”, again and again.
There is a truth to the human condition that is as alarming today as it was 20 years ago: the fragility of our civility. The bonds that hold us together can swiftly disappear. Societies can rapidly revert to a capacity for violence and brutalization that is far too easy to incite in the dark corners of the human heart. No country, no matter how tolerant on the surface, is immune from targeting the so-called other. No corner of the world, no matter how advanced, is free from opportunists who manipulate identity for political gain.
Over the past generation, you, the people of Rwanda, have shown the world another essential truth: the power of the human spirit. The resilience of the survivors almost defies belief. Children witnessed enough brutality to age them overnight. Yet you, and your country, have found a way to emerge from the depths, overcome frightful memories and live again. You have shown the world that transformation is possible.
I encourage Rwanda to continue deepening democracy and protecting human rights so that Rwanda’s future is one of freedom, dignity, security and opportunity for all. I urge the wider Great Lakes region to expand upon your efforts to strengthen prevention and cooperation towards regional stability and harmony.
Twenty years ago, thousands of Rwandans found refuge in this National Stadium, barely escaping the murder and rape that stalked Kigali and the countryside. Today it is filled with people who are building a new Rwanda, a Rwanda of shared culture, traditions and peace. Let the name of this arena — Amahoro, or “peace” — forever be our goal and guide.
Nzahora iteka nibuka kandi nifatanya naban yarwanda. [I will always remember and stand by the people of Rwanda.]
Murakoze cyane. [Thank you very much.]
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