A dark spot in history: commemorating the Rwandan Genocide

04.07.04

Today, April 7th, is the “official” day to remember the victims of the genocide that took place 10 years ago in Rwanda:

April 7 will now be set aside in Canada to remember the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the office of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin announced.

“April 7 marks one of the most profoundly tragic days of our time,” the statement from Martin’s office read.

It was on this day in 1994 “that the horrors of genocide were unleashed in Rwanda. Approximately 800,000 people were slaughtered over the ensuing three months,” the statement said.

“The Government of Canada has accordingly declared April 7 as a Day of Remembrance for the victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide.”

It would take me days to write about how woefully inadequate this token gesture seems.

“We didn’t know” was the excuse of most of the Western world and international community, who looked on silently while over 800,000 people – mostly Tutsis – were murdered.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan apologized for what he called “sins of omission” in allowing the genocide to happen:

“The international community is guilty of sins of omission,” Annan told the crowd gathered in New York for the summit.

The head of the UN peacekeeping agency at the time, Annan said he thought he did what he could.

“I believed at the time that I was doing my best. But I realized after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support,” he said in his opening speech.

To Annan, I have to say, far too little, and far too late. Canadian Romeo Dallaire, who had a front-row seat for the horrors, blamed the world’s leaders for failing to respond to his cries for action:

The UN force had a limited mandate and an insufficient number of troops and weapons, and that appeals for reinforcements were rejected, Dallaire told the court.

He specifically mentioned France, the United States and Belgium, the former colonial ruler which had the largest number of UN troops in Rwanda, as being “unco-operative.”

“… I did not get intelligence information from them,” he said.

Belgium ordered the withdrawal of its peacekeepers, the backbone of the operation, shortly after Rwandan troops killed 10 of their soldiers.

At least Dallaire went to Rwanda to face down his demons, and commemorate the date. Which is more than can be said for any of the leaders he blamed.

Rwanda is a testament to the complete and utter failure of the United Nations. Period. It’s been ten years now, and people are finally starting to wake up the fact that this international body is completely toothless, and will refuse to take action until it’s ridiculously, tragically far too late.

So we pause for a moment and remember.

But it’s not enough. Instead of a moment of silence for Rwanda, how about a moment of action – for North Korea… for Sudan… for Congo… for people anywhere their lives and freedoms are jeopardized. Because it’s one thing to regret inaction after the fact. Hindsight is 20/20. It’s another thing altogether to witness atrocities being committed right now, even as we speak, and fail to think about how people will think of our failure to act in 10 years from now.

That’s the true lesson of Rwanda. If we say “Never Again”, we ought to mean it.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 DaninVan 04.07.04 at 11:37 PM

No smartass comments from me on this item. It made me sick then and it still does now. The Pol Pots of the world have free licence to do as they wish.
General Dallaire reminds me of Don Quijote.
For years I hated his guts for abandoning the 10 Belgian commandos to their fate in the farmhouse where they were killed. Dallaire had shown up in an APC prior to their slaughter but felt that the mission that he was on at that moment took priority over staying and giving firepower support to the Belgians.
I certainly don’t blame the Belgian Gov’t for getting the rest of their guys out of that hell hole.
You know, of course, that the UN ordered Dallaire and the rest of the UN contingent out, but Dallaire refused to leave.

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