Conference on Kwibuka25 held at the UK Parliament

Conference on Kwibuka25 held at the UK Parliament

The UK reaffirms commitment to draw lessons from the Genocide against the Tutsi and to work with Rwanda in the pursuit of Justice – Kwibuka25 Conference at the UK Parliament, 29th April 2019

On Monday 29th April, the Rwandan High Commission in the UK, in collaboration with the Lord Polak CBE organised a Kwibuka25 conference on the Genocide against the Tutsi, 25 years on, at the Palace of Westminster. Harriet Baldwin MP, the Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for International Development, was amongst the distinguished guest speakers and panellists at the conference, joined by the Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP and Stephen Crabb MP. The panel comprised of Dr. Andrew Wallis, author, Dr. Michael Gray, Director of Studies at Harrow School and Ms Alice Musabende, PHD candidate at Cambridge University. The insightful and reflective conference was attended by UK members or parliament, Peers, heads of civil society organisations, scholars, media professionals, representatives of genocide survivors associations in the UK, Rwandans and friends of Rwanda.

Opening the conference held in Committee Room 10 at the House of Commons was Rt. Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, who stressed the importance of such an event and discussion, expressed on behalf of his colleagues that “Rwanda has a special place” in the hearts of many people in the UK. The Right Honourable, who, just weeks ago, raised an Urgent Questions session in the UK Parliament on the issue of extradition of genocide suspects living in the UK, shared reflections and lessons from Kwibuka25 noting that the approach of the international “needs to be one of great humility as it failed to intervene, stood by and reduced during the period of the Genocide.” In his reflection, the honourable member of parliament also cautioned that there “should be no impunity” and called on his colleagues and guests to ensure that the proceedings relating to the genocide suspects living in the UK “take place as soon as possible”.

The Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin MP, who represented the UK Government at Kwibuka25 in Kigali, expressed her pride in the role the Department for International Development has played in Rwanda’s development and implementation of Vision 2020 and its “positive impact on society”, particularly as the UK Department for International Development was among the very first development partners to work with Rwanda in the wake of the Genocide. The Minister confirmed that the UK Government is currently in the process to avail archives on the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 to the Rwandan Government, in response to the request made by the Government of Rwanda. “We commit ourselves once more to working towards the peaceful and prosperous shared future”, concluded the Minister.

High Commissioner for the Republic of Rwanda to the United Kingdom, H.E. Ms. Yamina Karitanyi, reminded attendees that “we all have a role to play”, urging guests to continue playing this role of speaking up against injustice. The High Commissioner said that Rwanda is moving to the next 25years “with great resilience and a great sense of hopefulness for what is to come”, crediting this to the good “friendship and good relationship” that Rwanda has had with partners such as the UK over the years.

Dr Andrew Wallis’ presentation focused on justice and stressed that Genocide “is a crime like no other” and that if we treat it like any other domestic crime, we are “missing the point of protecting humanity.”

Alice Musabende, a genocide survivor and media expert, outlined links between international media and the Genocide against the Tutsi, emphasising that the media “got it wrong” and when it did get it, “got it too late”, with examples of reporter Mark Doyle who did not use the word ‘Genocide’ in his reporting until April 29th 1994, and even when he did, he received pushback from his editors. Ms Musabende made the point that this inability to understand the nature of the Genocide gave rise to “silent complicity” by the media adding that we “cannot afford to be neutral” in the face of undeniable evidence of injustice taking place.

On what can be taken away from the media’s role before, during and post-genocide, Alice called for “an honest and frank discussion” within media organization, where lawyers and ethicists will discuss the role of media during mass atrocities and acts of injustice, with the aim to ensure the media is used to inform and not to cause harm.

Speaking on the responsibility of rebuilding communities through shared human values, with a focus on the role of young generations in societal transformation, Dr. Michael Gray remarked that 25years on, Rwanda “has faced up to the challenges that would seem insurmountable”. Citing the statistics that over 60% of the Rwandan population are 25 years old and younger, Dr Gray pointed out that Rwandan youth are the first post-genocide generation with a duty to step up and rebuild their country. He shared with the MPs, Peers and distinguished guests lessons the UK and others can draw from Rwanda, amongst which were the many youth and community-centred homegrown initiatives that have contributed “immensely” to the healing and rebuilding of communities in Rwanda. Dr Gray added that Rwanda “is no replica” and that the world is “blessed” by Rwanda’s example of rebuilding communities and transforming society.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General called on the leaders and distinguished guests to take action and “never forget the capacity of mankind to commit evil” and that genocide doesn’t just happen overnight, but rather over many years, through hatred, propaganda. The Secretary-General briefed guests on initiatives the Commonwealth is currently implementing, following “the Rwandan example”, to tackle hate speech and extremism, and to promote unity and peace. She cautioned that though the genocide “may not happen again in Rwanda, it may happen again somewhere if we do not act” – a message which the Lord Polak echoed in his remarks saying that “a lie that is not corrected becomes truth”.

A Q&A and comments session followed the panelists’ presentation, which saw contributions from attendees including Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy, Former Senator for Jersey, Philip Ozouf, UK Special-Envoy for post-Holocaust Issues, The Rt Hon Lord Eric Pickles.

Kwibuka25 continues to be marked across the UK and Ireland, with a commemoration event that was held in Brighton, UK this past weekend, organised by Rwandan Youth Information Community Organisation (rYico), and was attended by the Lord Mayor for Brighton and over a hundred other distinguished guests. This week, Kwibuka25 will be marked in Dublin, Ireland, where ambassadors, representatives of the government of Ireland and other guests are expected to attend the event at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, with further events and film screenings in London and Nottingham.