Never Forget, Never Again: Rwanda 25 years on

07 04 19

Nick Lowles writes about the slaughter in Rwanda, and the international community’s failure to act to stop it.

Twenty-five years ago today the first shots were fired in what was to become known as the Rwandan genocide. Over the following 100 days, between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people – 93.7% Tutsis – were murdered at the hands of the majority Hutu population. Neighbours turned on neighbours, friends turned on friends and even family members turned on one another.

The scale of the deaths is unparalleled in recent times. More than six people were murdered every minute of every hour of every day – for more than three months. What’s worse, the deaths were not the result of modern warfare and destructive weapons but rifles, machetes, clubs and knives.

Many of the deaths happened as Tutsis took refuge in churches and community centre. Men, women and children butchered to death as Hutu militias, funded and trained by the French military and supported by willing Hutus in the community, systematically attempted to wipe out an ethnic group.

The statistics are almost unbelievable. One in ten of the population were killed. Two million people were displaced. Over one million Hutus have been indicted for their involvement in the genocide, with 840,000 found guilty.

While men and boys made up the majority of those who were murdered, women and girls were also targeted in the most despicable way. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped, 67% going on to become infected with HIV and Aids.

A study of 9-18 year olds who lived through the genocide found “over 90% witnessed killings and had their lives threatened; 35% lost immediate family members; 30% witnessed rape or sexual mutilation; 15% hid under corpses.” 

What is almost as reprehensible about this genocide is that it happened in our lifetime and – depressingly – without any intervention from the international community. Small contingents of French and Belgian troops were in the country at the time of the genocide but were ordered back to their bases by their superiors, before being told to prioritise European citizens and then being withdrawn from the country altogether.

The UN Security Council failed to act the issue until the conflict was almost over, by which time the genocide had happened. More shockingly, the US and UK Governments were aware of what was happening but choose to withhold information about the scale of the killings from the wider international community and the UN Security Council in fear that they would be compelled to act.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, and the horrors of the Holocaust, the international community said Never Again. Institutions were created and conventions passed to ensure that the systematic elimination of entire ethnic or religious groups could never happen again. Every year, on Remembrance Sunday and on Holocaust Memorial Day, our political leaders once again invoke the language of Never Again. Sadly, the Rwandan genocide has taught us that sometimes words can be hollow.

The best way to mark the 25th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, and send a tribute to all those who died and those who continue to suffer today, is for us all to redouble our efforts to ensure Never Again actually means Never Again.

* A series of articles marking the Rwandan genocide will appear in the next issue of HOPE not hate magazine, which will be out next week.


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