“Memory can be a graveyard or it can be the true kingdom of man. The choice is before humanity.”
–Elie Wiesel and Samuel Totten
The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda began on April 7, 1994. The night before the President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, was murdered when the plane he was on was shot down. The next morning, armed forces from Rwanda and a Hutu militia called Interahamwe began the mass murder of Tutsis, which, over the next 100 days, resulted in the murder of over 1 million people.
The genocide in Rwanda began 23 years ago today.
Today, both Rwandans and those who watched the genocide happen safely from their homes in other countries use the month of April as an opportunity to reflect on the atrocities that were committed in the past to recommit to the promise of Never Again, despite the many threats this promise has seen since its inception in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
The issue of remembrance is complicated in Rwanda. In one moment, remembrance symbolizes trauma, hope, a political tool, a responsibility, and a sign that you survived, that you are able to remember. Remembrance is a privilege simply because so many are not here to remember. While the genocidaires failed to completely exterminate Rwanda’s Tutsis, whole communities were destroyed, and there are over 1 million people who were killed during these atrocities.
But remembrance is also a responsibility; a responsibility for bystanders to acknowledge their complacency in past atrocities, a responsibility to remember those who were killed and honor their lives, a responsibility to bare witness to the current atrocities happening across the world, and a responsibility to work to prevent future genocides.
“Will we add yet another ‘century of genocide to the history books or will we be the generation to author its final chapter and make it required reading for future generations?” asks David Estrin, the founder of Together We Remember, a name-reading memorial campaign to remember victims of genocide and mass atrocities. “The stakes couldn’t be higher. We need to build a movement that ensures that when we say “Never Forget” and “Never Again,” we mean it for all humanity.”
Today, we are reminded of the immense failure of humanity to prevent and respond to genocide. As a result of this failure, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives were lost, families torn apart, and irreparable wounds inflicted.
Today, it is our responsibility to stand up as global citizens and demand preventive action and proactive commitment to ending genocide and mass atrocities wherever they may occur.
Today, we honor the victims of the Rwandan genocide and stand with our Rwandan friends and colleagues, for whom the consequences of this failure of humanity are unfathomable.