At Genocide Commemoration Event, Secretary-General Pays Tribute to Victims, Praises Remarkable Resolve of Rwanda’s People

16 April 2014

At Genocide Commemoration Event, Secretary-General Pays Tribute to Victims, Praises Remarkable Resolve of Rwanda’s People

16 April 2014
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

At Genocide Commemoration Event, Secretary-General Pays Tribute


To Victims, Praises Remarkable Resolve of Rwanda’s People


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as delivered, at the twentieth commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda event, in New York today:

We come together to remember, unite and renew.  We join forces to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide in Rwanda 20 years ago — and to recognize the courage of the survivors and the resilience of the country in the 20 years since.  I wish to pay a special recognition to Mr. Kizito Kalima who survived the genocide that took the lives of his parents and other family members.

Two decades have passed and yet the terrible events that were unleashed in April 1994 are just as real, just as raw, just as horrifying.  Over the course of 100 blood-filled days, more than 800,000 Rwandans were systematically butchered — the majority of them Tutsi, along with moderate Hutu, Twa and others.  Neighbour turned against neighbour.  Teachers turned against students.  Doctors turned against patients.  And the world turned in on itself.

I had the profound honour of being in Kigali for the commemoration last week.  It was an unforgettable, deeply moving experience.  I joined President Kagame in lighting the national flame of remembrance at the Gisozi Memorial.  I addressed tens of thousands in the national stadium on behalf of the international community.  I took part in a memorial to the many dozens of our own United Nations staff who were killed.

I have travelled to Rwanda many times as the Secretary-General.  I think often of my visits to the Gisozi Memorial and a conversation that is captured there between a father and a young child.  “Don’t worry,” they assure one other.  “We will be OK.  The United Nations will save us.”  They both were killed.

Last week in Kigali, I said that the United Nations could have done more.  We should have done more.  We have pledged “never again” again and again.  But this world is still divided.  And yet, I draw profound inspiration from the people of Rwanda — from the survivors’ ability to show how reconciliation is possible even after such a monumental tragedy.

The country’s recent development gains are remarkable.  Rwandans have extended their hands and opened their hearts across the dividing lines to work for a new Rwanda of shared culture, traditions and peace.

The international community is also drawing on the lessons of Rwanda.  We are working for a new age of accountability by striving to make real the principle of responsibility to protect, by the growing reach of international criminal justice and the success of such efforts as the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, and by sending a message to leaders and warlords that they face the growing likelihood of prosecution for their crimes.

I have launched a call to the United Nations system and the international community to put human rights up front.

Since genocide takes careful planning, we must be vigilant for the early warning signs of human rights violations that lead to wider conflict and mass atrocities and, even before that, help societies build the rule of law, trustworthy institutions, peaceful channels for the resolution of disputes and the management of diversity.

Our first obligation must be to protect people in need.  Recently, we took action in South Sudan when thousands were fleeing from the fighting. 

The UN opened the gates of our peacekeeping bases to shelter them.  Many thousands of people, 85,000 people, are alive today as a result.

Of course, the ongoing challenges in South Sudan, Syria and the Central African Republic show that we have much work ahead of us.  At the same time, we can draw real hope and inspiration from Rwanda’s remarkable progress over the last twenty years.

Together, let us take strength from that example and resolve to do all we can to save lives, build human dignity and prevent the preventable.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.