To mark the 24th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, various cities in the UK have hosted commemoration events, including London, Oxford, and Birmingham, drawing hundreds of attendees of Rwandans and non-Rwandans, young and old, at each of the events.
Speaking at the Mansfield College, University of Oxford, The Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Jean Fooks, said “the city of Oxford is very proud to host this significant remembrance”, and added that as we build forward, we “must strengthen our resolve to ensure that Genocide never happens again.” Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi, High Commissioner for Rwanda to the UK, thanked all the guests and the hosts for their solidarity and for “playing [their] part”, adding that being Rwandan comes with the “responsibility to comfort survivors and to be on the frontline of fighting genocide denial”, a key reason why events like these are significant. At the Pitts Rivers Museum, which is attached to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, a ‘Kwibuka Rwanda’ exhibition recounting how survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda have used memorials to come to terms with loss and trauma, based on research by Dr. Julia Viebach was opened to the public in April and will run until September 2018. A spokesperson for the Museum said that “Rwanda has a huge amount to teach the world on how the country has been able to find ways to unite, be hopeful, through commemorations and ensuring collaboration.”
In Birmingham, the Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP joined 300 Rwandans and non-Rwandans from various boroughs in the UK at a commemoration event hosted by the Birmingham and Black Country Rwandese Association and the National Association for Rwandese Communities in the UK, and said that he was “delighted” to join with the Rwandan community to commit to Remember to unite and to renew. The MP for the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham added that Britain has “a responsibility to ensure that justice takes place” referring to the 5 suspected Genocide perpetrators living in the UK. His hope is that they face justice, either in Britain or in Rwanda where their crimes were committed.” The Member of Parliament pledged his “strong support to the direction of travel that Rwanda is on today” noting that “we must ensure when we say ‘Never Again’ we really mean it.”
Holding commemorations in various cities across the UK, and also having those cities get actively involved in the preparations and the carrying forward of the message and importance of Kwibuka, involving the local leaders, communities and youth, brings hope to the realisation of ‘Never Again’. This has also given the opportunity to young people in the Diaspora and non-Rwandans to learn about Rwanda’s story, not from the media or news, but directly from its people and survivors, as well as how Rwanda has achieved its healing and reconciliation to where it is now.
Eric Gashema, Community leader for the Rwandese community in Birmingham & the Black Country said that the “bitter lessons learned in our country teach us that hope can be regained through healing and reconciliation amongst ourselves”, adding that this is what pushes Rwandans forward to join hands and build a peaceful Rwanda. In his remarks on the importance of Commemoration, the Chairman of the National Association of Rwandan Communities in UK (NARC-UK) John Binama said that ‘We owe it to our loved killed in the genocide to tell their story. And so give them faces and dignity lost in death.’
Mrs Immaculée Hedden, a genocide survivor share in her moving testimony that the key to her healing was her personally making the “choice not to revenge, not to hate and not to steal.” She said, through her faith, she knew she had “to be different” and not the same as what she had experienced. “Forgiveness will help me to carry on and to choose life. This is the legacy I pray for us as survivors – to remember without revenge” she added. In Oxford,
In his remarks in Birmingham, UK, Mr. Fidelis Mironko, First Counsellor at the Rwandan High Commission in UK, noted the significance of holding commemorations and expressed his hope that “what we learn here encourages us to take on our role in humanity.” He said that it is encouraging “ to see many young people” as we remember and stand with the survivors of the Genocide. Attendees to the commemorations held across the UK also learn that Rwanda’s history and experience is what informed the country’s commitment of being a responsible & active member of the international community – such as being the 4th largest global contributor of uniformed personnel to UN Peacekeeping missions, protecting civilians, aid convoys and helping stabilise war-torn communities.
“Surviving is a responsibility. Memories of my loved ones will never leave me – I survived to live and carry forward their legacy” said Ms Antoinette Mushimiyimana as she delivered her testimony at the Mansfield College of the University of Oxford. Witnessing the horrors of the Genocide against the Tutsi at the tender age of 12, she recounted some of the fond memories she had of the loved ones she lost, including her mother. Testimonies like Ms Mushimiyimana and Mrs Hedden’s illustrate the magnitude of the injustice that befell more than 1million innocent Rwandans and their families and friends who mourn them, but they also show the resilience and the courage of the survivors. His Excellency President Paul Kagame, speaking at the 23rd Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, said to the survivors that they are not alone – “You may have lost your loved ones, but there is one family you didn’t lose: your nation. The nation of Rwanda is a family for all survivors, and it is a family to every Rwandan,” he said.
An increased level of participation and attendance from young people and children in the diaspora who were born after the Genocide, some taking active roles in the Kwibuka events, ushering, performing songs and poetry alongside their parents, sharing reflective thoughts on the Kwibuka theme, and also inviting their friends from school or neighbours, demonstrate that the various communities are indeed ‘proud’ to not only host the remembrances, but also to share their stories and carry the messages further, inspiring and educating the future generation. Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi remarked that it was “touching to watch survivors and their offspring perform together: actions which contribute to making ‘Never Again’ a reality.” The High Commissioner called on guests to “carry on that path of renewal” that today’s Rwanda should give us the “resilience and energy to create a better world to come.”
Notes to Editor:
- Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP is the founder of the social action Project UMUBANO. This project has worked in Rwanda for the last 10 years and focused on socio-economic projects, including poverty reduction, capacity building and infrastructure development.
- The Commemoration in Oxford was held on the 21st April 2018
- The Kwibuka24 commemoration in Oxford included a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Memory for the Future’ and the viewing of a special ‘Kwibuka Rwanda’ exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The exhibition is open for viewing until September 2018
- The Commemoration in Birmingham was held on the 5th May 2018