Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi, the High Commissioner of the Republic of Rwanda to the UK, was a guest speaker as The Jewish community in London marked the 22nd anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide against Tutsi last night.
World Jewish Relief, in partnership with JW3 – a London Jewish Cultural Centre, held an event exploring the shared history of the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust. The High Commissioner told the capacity audience how the commemoration has a dual significance today: remembering what was lost, and fighting against genocide denial.
Over 100 guests heard how the genocide had claimed the lives of more than one million people between April and July 1994 in just 100 days of targeted killing – a rate of more than 10,000 people per day or 25 per minute.
Responding to questions about causes of genocide, the High Commissioner gave a chronological account of pre-mediated and prejudiced politics from 1930s when Belgian colonialists introduced identity cards which broke the social fabric of a cohesive Rwandan society into ethnic polarisation namely; Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. Consequently, Rwanda became politically fragile plunging into political unrests in 50s and a fatal post-independence conflict in early 60s forcing hundreds of thousands of Rwandans mainly Tutsi to flee to neighbouring countries.
Over decades, identity cards were continuously used as genocide apparatuses to identify, target, discriminate and persecute the minority Tutsi leading to mass atrocities in 1994.
The High Commissioner abhorred the role of hate media during genocide. She said that RTLM radio broadcast lists of people to be killed and instructed killers (Interahamwe militia and government forces) on where to find them, however when a US Diplomat was asked at a time if it could be jammed, the envoy said it would be an infringement on freedoms of speech and media.
Guests heard the moving testimony of survivor Isaac Mugabe whose father was tortured and beaten to death. His mother was kidnapped, raped and died. His extended family were all brutally murdered. Isaac somehow survived in hiding and fleeing from place to place, keeping hunger, rain and cold at bay.
He was just 10 years old at the time and became responsible for his five-year old brother and two sisters, three and one. 80,000 other children were forced to become head of their households as a result of the genocide. [He] was the only one who could support [his] young brother and sisters.” He said he realised that the best way to honour the loved ones he lost was to improve their lives and those around him by empowering his fellow young Rwandans to fulfil their potential and build lives of self-reliance and dignity.
Today Isaac is Director of Operations of a Rwandan NGO, Uyisenga Ni Imanzi. Since 2014 he has implemented World Jewish Relief’s flagship livelihood development project in Rwanda which is transforming Rwandan vulnerable young people into successful agricultural entrepreneurs. Funded by World Jewish Relief and Comic Relief, the project has already mobilised more than 1,000 young people to substantially increase their income and that of their families.
Richard Verber, World Jewish Relief’s Head of External Affairs spoke of the tragic past shared by the Rwandan and Jewish communities. Some 70% of the Jewish population was wiped out in the Holocaust and over three quarters of Rwanda’s Tutsi population were murdered. Genocide denial affects both communities and rubs salt into wounds which have not yet healed. He added: “World Jewish Relief is motivated to work in Rwanda because of our own community’s experience of genocide. How could we not help? If ‘never again’ is to mean anything, it has to mean helping others who have suffered too.”
Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi said: “On behalf of my Government and the people of Rwanda, I’d like to thank World Jewish Relief for hosting this commemoration and also grateful for our existing friendship with Jewish Community in the UK. It is important to pause and remember the victims of the genocide against the Tutsis, and take our role as citizens of the world seriously, by applying two key principles: the responsibility to protect, and fighting genocide ideology and denial.”