On 29th April, the Rwandan High Commission partnered with One Young World to host an online panel discussion to mark the 27th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi. The statements and conversations challenged genocide ideology and denial in all its forms, and sought to conclude what people in the United Kingdom can do to ensure that truth prevails, and the memories of victims are respected and honoured.
Senior Lecturer at King’s College London and Chair of ISHAMI Foundation
Dr Zoe Norridge
Denial is the last stage of genocide. It is personal. It hurts the victims. It separates survivors from their loved ones. Denial is particularly damaging in a time of isolation enforced by the Covid-19, as people, families, and friends are kept apart without the ability to come together and mourn together, breathe together, and stand in silence together.
Memory feels more precarious in this time, and it remains vitally important to create spaces to reassert what is factually proven, address confusion, and engage in thoughtful conversation.
Survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and One Young World Ambassador
This is not an easy testimony. Born in South-West Rwanda, Hyppolite was seven when the 100 days of violence began. His father was killed and left for the dogs to eat. He never had a chance to say goodbye, let alone bury him. Many family members were murdered and raped in front of him. Hyppolite himself was made a child slave and threatened that he would be killed to celebrate finishing the Tutsi people. Hyppolite ended up in a refugee camp, before being rescued by RPA forces.
He knew the killers. They were friends and neighbours. They were the people he had played football with. However, because of the government murder became praiseworthy, and Hyppolite’s family became hunted. Through his search for peace, Hyppolite realised ethnicity was not killing people, but the ideology of genocide and hatred which had been taught for generations. In an incredible act of peace, Hyppolite chose to forgive the killers. To this day, Hyppolite visits the village his mother still lives in, and the people who killed his relatives. He does this not because forgiving is easy, but because he wants people to learn the price of lasting peace.
As a peace practitioner, Hyppolite explores conflict. His work examines how hatred was used to justify the genocide. He asks people to stop the ideology and end the denial. Words are important as hatred language was a systemic tool that enabled the genocide. Hyppolite’s organisation has worked on the ground with perpetrators and survivors to promote intergenerational peace.
High Commissioner for the Republic of Rwanda to the United Kingdom, Malta and Non-Resident Ambassador to Ireland
Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi
Genocide does not begin and end with the killings. The first stage is classification. The second extermination. The final stage is denial. The persecution of the Tutsi began in 1959 and continued up until 1994, when the country experienced the 100 darkest days of its history. During these 100 days, some of the most powerful countries in the world refused to call the genocide by its name. Admitting it was a genocide would have pressured them to act to stop it.
Genocide denial is part of ‘double genocide’, and happens in different ways. Some reduce and underestimate the total deaths, often quoting numbers around 800,000 instead of over 1 million. Others refuse to call it what it is, the ‘Genocide against the Tutsi’.
Genocide is not an event with an expiry date. So how can it end? The two main tools are international cooperation and legislation. Alleged perpetrators of genocide must face justice. People cannot be allowed to deny or trivialise the genoicde. Structural failings must be overcome which exclude the voices of experts. Fighting denial must not be left to a few of us, but include those many of us who want to be on the right side of history. It is only with a critical mass of people that we can tackle and solve this issue.
Member of Parliament for Sutton Coldfield
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP
The question was raised in 2008 in the House of Commons on the extradition warrants of alleged genocidaires living in the United Kingdom. Still unsolved, this issue persists as the British courts fear that they are unlikely to receive a fair trial in Rwanda, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
With this situation, the only alternative is for the alleged genocidaires to be tried in the United Kingdom, but day by day they remain untried. It has been indicated from within the Metropolitan Police that it may take another decade to process the information, despite the information being appended for judgement and filed.
The issue of genocide denial is a very serious issue indeed, as it perverts the recollection of history. In Germany, denial of the Holocaust is a criminal offence. It is essential to respect history to ensure that it never happens again as without truth it becomes more likely that genocide will repeat in a new form, to the disgrace and desperation of all of us.
Why is this language important? Is the UK falling into the trap of genocide revisionists by using this language?
YK: It is important for historical clarity, if for no other reason. By giving it its rightful name (Genocide against the Tutsi), it is not taking away from the Hutu victims. There is a day during the commemoration period so no one is being ignored. However, it is important to specify in the name who was pursued for extermination; the objective was exterminating the Tutsi. If the UN is willing to accept this title, then why do some countries still protest the term? What is in it for them? Clarity is needed to fight denial.
AM: Potentially through lack of thought or a belief that the term is sufficient already, the British government has decided not to acknowledge the name “Genocide against the Tutsi”. People feel guilty now, but at the time the French President declared the situation a civil war. If you retreat to this position, you undermine the correct knowledge of history which gives space for it to happen again. A recent book from a respected author has led to an upsurge in these sentiments. This is undermining historical accuracy. Not recognising it is insulting to the souls of the departed.
ZN: UK and US objections were that it did not leave enough space to commemorate the Hutu.
HN: Denial is the final step of the genocide, and so if it is not called what it is the genocide persists. It gives justice to the crimes. It is a fight to stop the ideology that made the genocide possible. It is undermining what actually happened. In Rwanda, there are facts, people who committed genocide are there, the facts are there, there shouldn’t be a fight about it. The de-legitimisation of the crime is through the language. It is factual to call it Genocide against the Tutsi. Whoever does not call it that is denying the facts. Support for facts brings justice.
How has Rwanda transitioned, and how does it continue to pursue justice?
YK: In Rwanda, there was clarity from the beginning. The Genocide did not just happen and go away, as people encounter the perpetrators everyday. It uses justice to promote reconciliation. The judiciary would have needed 600 years to achieve this, so they used traditional courts which were not approved by the international community. However, the ability of the government to own the process allowed it to move from the crisis to a level of acceptance, and to give a sense of justice to Rwanda. Since then, it has strengthened the judiciary and introduced a genocide law which has been amended 4-5 times since and remains a work in progress. It has introduced and strengthened institutions to deal with the aftermath as without them success cannot be sustainable. The next stage is a matter of international cooperation.
Why has it taken so long to try the genocidaires – and what can diaspora Rwandans do to help?
AM: Write to your MPs. Write to your local papers too. Explain your story, and your reason for writing. Explain about the courts which are no longer running and were a part of the truth and reconciliation process. In Kigali Central Jail, there is an empty block with the best amenities that is luxurious compared to the rest of the jail. However, it has no inmates. Why? It is waiting for the returned alleged genocidaires from the west, as countries like the United Kingdom were worried about the conditions for the prisoners. These procedures and processes are now obstructing justice. The death penalty has been abolished, and many other countries have sent back people to be tried without an issue. It is irritating that Britain cannot see the wood from the trees. People must be held to account, not least because the allegations hang over them.
When you have found yourself in contact with a denier, how do you navigate these conversations?
HN: Reply with facts. This was not something that was dreamed up, but something lived, and that has been recorded. Put the facts in front of them and lay out how it was planned before. Talk about his sisters who, before the violence, were denied to go to school because they were Tutus. Talk about his mother being told in the 1970s that “one day the Tutsis would be killed”. Talk about how a few weeks before, his sisters and brothers were told by a neighbour’s child “it was almost time”. The facts are there, and they are the only way.
What are your recommendations for forgiving and self-reconciliation?
HN: Do not give up on life. See yourself and them as changemakers. If you are looking for courage in others, find it in yourself. Give courage to others and you will get compassion to continue. Stand in the place of those who died. That is the motivation when you wake up, having had nightmares about what you experienced.