Three members of our WFWP Community had the opportunity to attend the 19th Commemoration of the Genocide in Rwanda on April 13 at Ryerson University, Toronto. Mrs. Eveline Stewart shares here experience with us today…
”Our idea of what it means to be a human being was shattered”. Thus Ms. Solange Umwali opened the commemoration of the 19th anniversary of a very dark chapter of human history: the genocide of one million Tutsis in Rwanda from April to July 1994. Three members of Woman’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP) were in attendance, Esther Tamale, Jennifer Biscocho from the Toronto chapter, and Eveline Stewart from the Hamilton. Our organization has a relationship with the nation of Rwanda through the New Hope Technical Institute in Kigali, founded by Japanese WFWP members, for which we have been fundraising the last 6 years.
The extent of this tragedy is very hard to fathom. More difficult to accept was the inaction of many western governments and the United Nations which made a conscious decision not to intervene to stop the mass killing of men, women and children. Hon. Irwin Cotler MP, former Minister of Justice underlined the lessons to be learned from the Rwandan massacres:
1. Not unlike the Holocaust this was the result of a state sanctioned culture beginning with the dehumanization of a group of people. Tutsis were portrayed as cockroaches intent on attacking the population. This paralleled the Holocaust history where violence began with words.
2. We shall not forget the crime of indifference and complicity of the international community at the level of the Security Council of the United Nations.
3. The dangers of the culture of impunity at the time. Since then Canada has enacted laws to prosecute the Canadian perpetrator of genocide.
4. The violence committed against women used systematically as an instrument of war.
5. The assaults on the most vulnerable, women, children and the elderly.
6. The cruelty of genocide denial where victims are accused of fabrication.
7. The heroism of those who stood up and gave their utmost to alarm the world to the carnage.
Dr. Eugene Nshimiyimana gave some historical background to the traditional ways of living and dealing with conflict in Rwanda prior to the arrival of the colonial powers. Colonial authority replaced the old system and it became a common stratagem to favor one group, the Tutsis for their intelligence, or the other, the Hutus , having compassion for their oppression, and the perpetuation of a cycle of violence and revenge.
Dr. Amanda Grzyb gave an expose on the role of the media prior to April 1994.The anti-Tutsi propaganda was promoted through the newspaper, Kangura, and the radio waves. At the height of the genocide people on the ground were directed to more victims through radio broadcast. General Dallaire and some embassy personnel reported this to their superiors who could have used some radio-wave jamming device, but this was judged too costly!
The coverage in the western media portrayed the events as tribal warfare, internal affairs not warranting any meddling or intervention. In Canadian newspaper articles more concern was expressed for the few whites having to get out of the country or the gorillas of a certain reserve.
Speakers included representatives of the Jewish and Armenian community, who shared many common experiences with Rwandans. Presentations were made of different NGO’s active in the nation.
Keynote speaker Dr. Gerry Kaplan gave a passionate presentation on a network of about a dozen individuals around the globe who have made an occupation of spreading conspiracy theories negating the genocide, apparently stemming from their avowed hatred of the US government. These groups, Dr. Caplan explained, mysteriously allege that the genocide was somehow inspired by US interests in the region! These individuals, he added, tend to be on the extreme left wing fringes and almost religiously espouse their position with total disregard to all available evidence. Dr. Caplan suggested that while it was almost impossible to eliminate all of these negative elements, Rwandans owed it to themselves to learn to cope and move on with the task of rebuilding their country for the better, rather than waste precious energy to always go after these groups which merely gives them the attention they want and might potentially give undue credence to those who are determined to be drunk with their own deliberate distortions of history.
H.E. Edda Mukabagwiza concluded the evening in very reassuring terms when she reiterated that Rwanda has proved that it is capable of lifting its people out of despair and poverty and into a brighter future, and later adding in un-minced terms that there will never again be genocide in Rwanda.