Monday, April 7, 2014

An Anniversary That Should Have Been Remembered

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan Genocide. I only saw one small article appear and that was in a UK paper. I looked yesterday, here and there, to see if anyone remembered. And I saw nothing. Nothing in my local paper. Nothing in the national papers that I read online. 60 Minutes didn’t cover it. CNN, MSNBC and FOX, all were silent on it. We have no problem remembering the anniversary every year of the death of Princess Diana.

But we can’t seem to be bothered with this.

Just like we were all silent before and after April 6, 1994. I include myself in that group, by the way. If asked, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where Rwanda was on the map let alone be able to distinguish who was killing who. It didn’t really hold any meaning for me in my small and child filled life at that time. We do not want to remember.  We do not want to be reminded because if we do remember April 6, 1994 and what happened that day and in the following 100 days, when between 500,00 and 1 million people were killed, then we will be reminded that genocide does not happen in a vacuum. President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane wasn’t just shot down over the Kigali International Airport and then people said, “We have to blame someone! Let’s blame the Tutsis!” The road signs for the genocide were all there for people to see if they chose to look. People did see, they just chose not to act. The increase in importation of machetes and guns and grenades and knives. The rise of the Hutu Power movement. The arming and training of the interahamwe.  Previous genocides in 1959, 1964 and 1990 were all smaller in scale, just a precursor if you will, to the 100 days of 1994. But no one did anything about them. And if no one does anything about smaller genocides then bigger ones will occur because the perpetrators think they can get away with it.

I can date my Rwandan awakening to a small used book store in Lahaina on the island of Maui. I don’t even remember the name of the store, it is somewhere on the main street I think, or it was in 2005. We were on vacation and were spending some hours wandering around downtown on our first day there. A used bookstore! Sweet! I went downstairs to check out the books in the History section and there, on the bottom shelf was a book with the longest and most arresting title that I have ever seen.  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. That is a mouthful of a title and I was intrigued. Rwanda? Genocide? I sort of remember something about that but not much. The book was a whopping $2. I bought it and was forever changed. Since that first book HHBL and I have read many if not most of the books that cover the Rwandan Genocide. We have visited Rwanda and would go back in a heart beat.

But we must never forget what happened there and our responsibility as a nation for the genocide. And yes, the United States holds responsibility. I am currently reading Leave None to Tell The Story by Alison Des Forges. Written in 1999 for Human Rights Watch it is considered the most unbiased and detailed account of the genocide. This is what Ms. Des Forges writes about international responsibility:

The Rwandans who organized and executed the genocide must bear full responsibility for it. But genocide anywhere implicates everyone. To the extent that governments and peoples elsewhere failed to prevent and halt this killing campaign, they all share in the shame of the crime. In addition, the U.N. staff as well as the three foreign governments principally involved in Rwanda bear added responsibility: The U. N. staff for having failed to provide adequate information and guidance to members of the Security Council; Belgium for having withdrawn its troops precipitately and for having championed total withdrawal of the U.N. force; the U.S. for having put saving money ahead of saving lives and for slowing the sending of a relief force; and France, for having continued its support of a government engaged in genocide. In contrast to the inaction of the major actors, some non-permanent members of the Security Council with no traditional ties with Rwanda undertook to push for a U.N. force to protect Tutsi from extermination. But all members of the Security Council brought discredit on the U.N. by permitting the representative of a genocidal government to continue sitting in the Security Council, a council supposedly committed to peace.

April 6, 1994 is an anniversary that we should remember. Not to celebrate but to be reminded that even friends and neighbors can kill other friends and neighbors simply because their identity card says one thing and not another. If genocide continues to rear it’s head in other parts of the world (Darfur, Christians in Iraq and Iran and Egypt, North Korea) then we continue to bear responsibility for it.

Below are other blog posts on the topic of Rwanda.

We must remember.

Genocide Made Real

Rwanda (this post contains a small reading list of books that I would recommend on the subject)


  1. Thank you for remembering, and reminding those of us who may have forgotten. So much of what's happening in the world that's truly meaningful seems to be overlooked nowadays for the stories about meaningless celebrities or things that are politically correct.

  2. Thank you for the reminder and further information. I'm ashamed to say how ignorant I am about this.


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