Over 700 Rwandans and friends of Rwanda marked the 20th Anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi at a sombre ceremony in Birmingham, West Midland, on 12th April 2014.
The gathering was joined by the Hon. Eric Pickles, Secretary for Communities, representing the UK government at the function. Also present were Hon. Andrew Mitchell and Hon. Jeremy Lefroy, members of the diplomatic community and local council representatives.
Speaking at the event, both Hon. Pickles and Mitchell hailed Rwandans and their leadership for an extraordinary journey of recovery and reconstruction over the last two decades.
Hon. Mitchell noted that the world have a lot of lessons to learn from Rwanda, not only its successful process of reconciliation, but also the country’s commitment to the concept of the Responsibility to Protect, noting that it is not lost to the world that Rwanda was the first country to commit and deploy troops in Darfur while the wider world was still dithering in indecision.
The participants who came from over 12 cities in UK witnessed an exhibition on the 1994 genocide and participated in a work on the Kwibuka20 theme: Remember. Unite. Remember in the morning.
They then joined in the sombre commemoration ceremony in the afternoon and closed the day with a night vigil which ended at around 22h00 on 12th April 2014.
The participants heard moving testimonies from survivors, commemorative songs from Rwanda and British artists as well as reflections from different speakers.
A SURF representative speaking at the event commended the Rwandan Government for the work it has done in promoting reconciliation and assisting survivors, but lashed at the international community, and its failure to own up to its responsibility in supporting genocide survivors.
Going forward, the organization said it would focus its campaign efforts on getting the international community to pay reparations to survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
In his remarks at the ceremony, the High Commissioner of Rwanda to UK, His Excellency Williams Nkurunziza thanked participants for their coming to share in this sombre moment and to honor those that perished in the genocide.
He also observed that over the last two decades, the country has made a phenomenal recovery founded on the resilience of her people and support of genuine friends of Rwanda.
“In our journey, our leaders have insisted we must always be primary in putting our shoulder on the wheel of hope and breaking the first sweat. And we have. But we have also benefited from the support of our friends, and none has been greater than Great Britain,” he said.
The High Commissioner also noted that that the best way to honor those who perished is to ensure that those that committed genocide are held to account.
“It is pointless to remember without taking responsibility. To do so would be to dance on the graves of those who perished on our watch,” he said, and added:
“We dishonor their memory and compromise our children’s future when we forget to hold accountable those who committed genocide. We dishonor their memory and sell short the dreams of a new generation when our belief in freedom of expression allows them space to fabricate and articulate a narrative of genocide denial.
We dishonor their memory and pervert the very meaning of democracy when our commitment to political pluralism legitimizes the illegitimate aspirations of genocidaires, or pretend that terrorists with blood on their hands, in one country are freedom fighters in another.”
Ambassador Nkurunziza also challenged the international community to draws lessons from the Rwandan experience and work to ensure history does not repeat itself.
“In the spirit of the Responsibility to Protect - R2P- the world must do more to prevent the extreme inhumanity of man to his fellow men. The fear to engage in the face of a known and unfolding catastrophy is a betrayal of our common humanity.
Inaction is neither humane nor cheap. It costs lives, steals the dreams of our youths and astronomically escalates the burden of peace building,” he noted.
He then called on all Rwandans to head the President’s call “to be together; to be accountable, and to think big” as this is what has enabled up as to rise again as a nation.
“We heard the President’s call to all Rwandans to stay the course. And we must, for to do so is to honor those who perished, comfort survivors and secure our collective future,” he said.