The risk of genocide across the world remains
—This month marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Almost one million people were killed in the space of just 100 days. Kwibuka is the word for ‘remember’ in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. It describes the annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide. Kwibuka20 is a programme of events to remember, unite and renew. As part of this, a flame of remembrance has toured the United Kingdom. I was pleased to welcome the flame to Liverpool last month.
I first visited Rwanda in 2005 with the Aegis Trust. It is a beautiful country whose people have had to come to terms with the horrendous aftermath of genocide. Aegis helped to set up and run the Kigali Memorial Centre in the country’s capital, setting out what happened, placing the genocide in the context of Rwanda’s history, and making connections with the Nazi Holocaust and other crimes against humanity.
At the heart of Kwibuka are the survivors of the genocide, some of whom live here in the United Kingdom. Hearing their voices is vital. One thing we have learned from the experience of Holocaust education is that survivor testimony is of critical importance to the effectiveness of teaching and learning about genocide. I have seen this in the amazing work of the UK Holocaust Centre and the Holocaust Educational Trust and I saw it in Rwanda eight years ago when I visited with a group of British teachers.
Commemoration and education are intrinsic parts of Kwibuka20. We must never forget what happened in 1994. We owe that to those who lost their lives, their loved ones and the survivors. It is necessary that we remember – but it is not sufficient. We need to learn the lessons of 1994 so that we do all that we can to prevent such atrocities ever happening again.
In Rwanda the genocide was directed against the Tutsi people. The campaign of hatred and discrimination faced by the Tutsi prior to 1994 has been well documented. There are undoubtedly parallels with what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s with hate speech and persecution building up to genocide.
Romeo Dallaire was the United Nations force commander on the ground in Rwanda at the time. Dallaire is one of a number of Canadians who have promoted the doctrine of the responsibility to protect to try to ensure that the events of Rwanda in 1994 are not repeated elsewhere. The doctrine has usually been cited in cases where a mass atrocity has either already begun or where the risk appears imminent. Ideally we should have a system which acts earlier than this. Let me give a current example.
The Rohingya Muslims in Burma have faced systematic persecution over the past 30 years. In 1982, they were stripped of their citizenship in Arakan state. In recent years Human Rights Watch and others have expressed serious concern that the Rohingya have faced ethnic cleansing. Here in the UK, Aegis Students have a campaign, Voices for Rohingya, which calls on the UK government to place the risk of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Rohingya Muslims at the forefront of its policy and engagement with the government of Burma.
Aegis is committed to building a global parliamentary network for the prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities. To be successful this needs to be truly international – engaging parliamentarians in Africa as well as Europe and in Asia as well as the Americas.
I will be attending the commemoration in Rwanda on 7 April. Uppermost in my thoughts will be all those whose lives were lost 20 years ago and the remarkable survivors of the genocide there. I will also be thinking of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma – and hoping that, this time, when we say ‘never again’ we mean what we say.
Stephen Twigg MP is shadow minister for constitutional reform and honorary president of Progress
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