Remarks by Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma at the first of a series of commemorations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. The event was hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in partnership with the Rwandan High Commission.
Rwanda: 20 Years after the 1994 Genocide; Kwibuka – Remember, Unite, Inspire
Excellencies, distinguished parliamentarians, Commonwealth friends and colleagues….welcome to Marlborough House, headquarters of the Commonwealth.
We gather here today to join with the Government and people of Rwanda in solemn remembrance of the genocide of 1994 and the twenty years that have passed since that horror. As we recall the genocide, and reflect on its aftermath, we acknowledge the ways in which the people of Rwanda have sought to find healing and move forward.
Bitter lessons learnt in Rwanda, and in other Commonwealth nations, teach us that hope can be regained through a collective seeking for truth and reconciliation. This painful but vital process lays the foundation on which communities that have been torn by armed conflict or political violence can begin to heal and to build peace. It is by finding harmony that we establish the kind of societies – inclusive and democratic – in which Commonwealth values of respect, tolerance, and inclusiveness are cherished and upheld.
Our gathering today is part of a series of events and seminars enabling us to share the post-conflict experiences of our member states. Within the Commonwealth context of trust and mutual support we have, over recent months and years, pursued a range of initiatives to encourage governments and communities towards the implementation of locally driven processes aimed at bringing about justice and reconciliation.
We strive to learn lessons and gain wisdom from one another. We seek together to avoid the recurrence of conflict and tragedy, and to build peaceful and stable communities in which all can share equitably in social progress and economic prosperity.
In May 2013, in pursuit of these goals, we convened a Commonwealth Roundtable on Reconciliation here at Marlborough House. Among member states represented were Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Uganda and the United Kingdom.
The Roundtable sought to draw together wisdom and insights gained from past experience within the Commonwealth. Recognition was given to the important processes of accountability, truth-seeking, reparation, guarantees of non-recurrence, and institutional reform.
A strong theme arising from the discussion on national reconciliation and transitional justice was the role of memorialisation. As a mechanism for fostering reconciliation, memorialisation was our focus last month when we marked Human Rights Day 2013.
The Roundtable carried forward the work of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding. Established in 2005 at the request of Commonwealth Heads of Government, the task given to the Commission was to: ‘explore initiatives to promote mutual understanding and respect among all faiths and communities in the Commonwealth’.
Chaired by Nobel Laureate Dr Amartya Sen, the Commission’s Report, entitled Civil Paths to Peace, outlines value-driven responses to conflict that are rooted in the Commonwealth’s collectively agreed principles. These include steadfast commitment to upholding human rights, a continual raising of expectations of adherence to them, and practical steps towards realising economic and social justice for all citizens.
The Commission laid emphasis on the significant role that can be played by the Commonwealth and made recommendations to promote civil engagement in achieving post-conflict reconciliation. These include the use of dialogue and multilateralism; a commitment to civil rather than military paths to peace; addressing grievances and humiliation; political participation and inclusion; women’s political participation; the role of young people; contributions by the media and communication; and education.
Friends and colleagues, the atrocities committed and the brutalities suffered during the Rwanda genocide are brought home to us afresh today. Over one million people were killed within a period of one hundred days in one of the most swift and systematic genocides known to history.
The images of what took place in Rwanda remain etched on our consciousnesses and our consciences. The memories continue to stir deep emotion within us – of revulsion, sorrow, grief and shame. To understand this legacy in whatever measure, and to begin to overcome it, we need to know that serious efforts have been made to recall and acknowledge the gravity of the offences and the gross violations that occurred.
Thus the 20th anniversary of the genocide is an important occasion on which to remember and grieve for the lives that were lost, show solidarity with survivors and renew commitment to ensure it never happens again. It is also an opportunity to reflect on Rwanda’s inspiring story of reconciliation and nation building.
In reflecting on the past twenty years, it is my hope that we take away not only some deeper insight, but also a renewed recognition that we must never be complacent, or content to merely memorialise the legacy of the genocide. Rather, we must redouble our endeavour to put right the legacy of past injustices.
And if the immensity of the task seems daunting, our Commonwealth kinship and affinity can strengthen our resolve and our courage. The words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu can guide us and give us heart. When he was appointed to chair South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission he said:
‘True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgement of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know. The Commission needs to be geared towards the victims of human rights abuses. I would like us to concentrate on the rehabilitation of victims and restoration of their dignity.’
Last month the world paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, that great champion of the Commonwealth, and exemplar of true reconciliation. Let me conclude by quoting some of his words of wisdom.
‘True reconciliation does not consist in merely forgetting the past’.
And he also said:
‘If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner’.