A lesson from Rwandan genocide

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- After escaping from a shattering episode that still makes front-page news, survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide have more than a legal battle in mind.
Accounts made before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, and recently, before the Belgian court of assizes in Brussels, bring to life a series of ugly events that should take analysts to the heart of evil.
As witnesses testifying before the ICTR painfully reconstruct the fateful events that led to the massacre of nearly a million people in the tiny central African country, one wonders whether the Rwandan people will ever genuinely reconcile with their past.
Theirs was a genocide that roots in a long history of animosity, inherent discrimination and passionate ethnocentrism between the country's minority Tutsi ethnic community and the majority Hutu people.
It was not simply a political conflict as some diplomatic pacifiers tried to portray it.
Those who attempted to diffuse it in early 1994, obviously glossed over some things.
That was probably the cause of their failure to stop Rwanda, and later on neighbouring Burundi, from drifting into bloodbath.
Amidst the tense atmosphere of deep-rooted hatred between the two ethnic groups, even families founded on intermarriages and the idea of equality were torn apart.
Children were drawn into a dark world of collaboration in killings, depression, violence and betrayal they could barely understand.
Narrating their ordeal, some children among half a million Rwandans who took refuge in Tanzania, said they thought the sky was about to fall on their heads.
It was hard to imagine how the religious (Rwandans are predominantly Catholic), at least those who have so far been brought to justice and convicted, could let themselves demonstrate their hatred of fellow human beings.
In a nutshell, the Rwandan society was going mad and those who could keep it at the saner end of the spectrum, the intellectuals, became obsessed by the horrific turn of events in the country.
In almost all episodes of racism, ethnicity and discrimination in human history, intellectuals play a discrete role.
They would hide behind an invisible wall to orchestrate the elimination of their opponents.
Evidence gathered so far by the ICTR and the special tribunals set up in Rwanda to try perpetrators of the genocide may provide some dramatic revelation of acts of violence, cruelty or oddity.
But it leaves much for the international community to reflect upon in waging the battle for equality across the globe.
"For too long the diversity of race and culture has been treated as a threat rather than a gift", says Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland.
Even in small countries, like Rwanda and Burundi, ethnic diversity is still used by intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike as a tool for division rather than of pride and national unity.
This is why Robinson asks questions that are pertinent to all nations: "How can we instil in every child, every human being, a sense of oneness of the human family so that each person can have a sense of belonging to the whole and none would feel excluded? "How can each country establish institutions to monitor itself to detect potential problems and defuse them before they become serious?" At the height of the Rwandan conflict, intellectuals seized the opportunity provided by modern means of communication and information and set up 'Radio des Milles Collines' to spread the message of hatred instead of oneness of the Rwandan society.
Others used different media for the same purpose while the agitated population hacked each other to pieces.
Common Rwandans were pawns in the hands of politicians and intellectuals who organised the genocide.
Though naturally heinous, outcomes of racism and all forms of discrimination should be educational to mankind.
In Rwanda, Burundi or Sierra Leone groups of people who had been marginalised found that upheavals provided them with a means of achieving some form of redress for their grievances.
In Burundi or Rwanda not all Hutus or Tutsis for that matter are violent.
But in a country plagued with poverty, millions of unemployed youths are likely to take a chance of violence, especially when it is nurtured within the society, to join any armed movement as a way for them to make money from looting.
It is therefore vital that every nation creates an education system that is free of bias or prejudice against any ethnic group, gender, race or faith in order to foster peace.
During the Brussels trial of Rwandan nuns for their role in genocide, a witness described how Hutu children were taught in schools what to observe in identifying a Tutsi by physical features, including the hair.
This is frightening enough for everybody to understand that the genocide did not just get off the ground and flared across the country within a few months.
The two ethnic groups were already entrenched in a long- running feud.
No wonder there is still an obsession with some members of either group to wipe out the other side.
Survivors have said time and again that statements being made by some Hutu heavyweights are meant to sow seeds of hatred and division.
'Ibuka' association of genocide survivors, for instance, has expressed fear that the Hutu will take up their machetes once again and butcher the Tutsis in the coming 10 to 20 years.
It is up to the Rwandan leadership, in cooperation with the international community, to balance the demands of justice and political expediency now to avert the recurrence of bloodshed.
Memory of the tragedy and its causes can be preserved on records as a lesson to future generations because one day there will be nobody to describe what it was really like.

27 august 2001 19:46:00




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