On Monday, Rwanda commemorated the victims of a genocide unleashed 20 years ago by Hutu extremists in power then. More than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi men, women and children, were systematically hunted down and brutally murdered over a period of just 100 days. The world stood by and let the blood bath happen.
Over the past two decades, Rwanda has done an impressive job of rebuilding its institutions and economy. To bring perpetrators of the genocide to justice, the United Nations has conducted more than 70 tribunal cases, Rwanda’s courts have tried up to 20,000 individuals, and the country’s Gacaca courts have handled some 1.2 million additional cases. Incredibly, Tutsis and Hutus, survivors and former killers, now live side by side. The government of President Paul Kagame has transformed Rwanda into an island of order and relative prosperity in a poor and politically volatile region.
Despite this, the genocide has left a legacy of unanswered questions and uncorrected failures. It is time to face them. The international community cannot hide behind euphemisms. The reluctance to use the word “genocide” because of the moral horror it carries and the intervention it demands does not change realities on the ground. It did not spare the United States accusations of shameful paralysis during the Rwandan genocide, and it will not protect the international community from the judgment of history for mass murder now or in the future. Recognizing the need to respond appropriately to such situations, President Obama created the Atrocities Prevention Board in 2012. But as events in the Central African Republic, Syria and Sudan make clear, the United Nations, regional organizations and allied countries also need to set up international contingency plans to deal with mass atrocities.
It is time for France to open its records to public examination. France had close relations to the Hutu-dominated government that planned and incited the genocide. A lack of clarity about France’s role has poisoned its relationship with the Kagame government and hampers France’s actions in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Kagame must also be held accountable for abuses in Rwanda and outside its borders, where he has gone after critics in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Europe. Civil and political rights in Rwanda are severely restricted. Dissidents and opposition political leaders are subject to harassment, detention and torture. Several have disappeared or been killed.
Addressing the poisonous legacies of Rwanda’s genocide is the only way to avert future tragedy, and it is the best way to honor Rwanda’s dead.
— The New York Times