Press Releases Rwanda: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the ceremony to commemorate 30 years since the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

Rwanda: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the ceremony to commemorate 30 years since the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

I do not think we need to have a one minute [of] silence. The silence is already here. Without having to [stand] up and keep one minute, this silence shows a lot about the emotion that all of us feel at that moment.

Monsieur l’Ambassadeur du Rwanda auprès de l’Union européenne,

Chers amis de la communauté rwandaise en Belgique,

Excellences, guests, friends and colleagues,

Yesterday was the 30th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. I was asking you, Ambassador, what does “Kwibuka” mean. Yes, 30 years. It was not yesterday, but it is as if it had been yesterday.

One of the most moving things I have done in my life is to visit the Museum of this Genocide, in your country. An impressive [reminder] of what happened in 1994, when in less than 100 days, over 1 million children, women and men were murdered in a campaign [of] unspeakable and with deliberate atrocities.

It is difficult to believe that in 100 days over 1 million people [were] murdered in the middle of unspeakable atrocities.

And the international community was unwilling, but not unable to protect them, as many times in the history [it] happens. We regret, but we do not act.

We are gathered here today to remember the victims of this tragedy, to honour the survivors, because there are survivors – the survivors and their families – and to praise their incredible resilience and courage, which continues until today and [to] which I pay my heartfelt tribute on behalf of the European Union.

As I said, in 2021, I visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali and met both with survivors and perpetrators of this Genocide against the Tutsi. And I participated in one very moving ceremony, where the victims and the perpetrators were telling their stories, were explaining, [in the] open air, what happened – what they did, and why they did [it]. If it is possible to ask for why. Is there any possible rational answer?

For me, this moment in which the victims and the perpetrators were telling their stories and sharing their pain on one side, and their guilty on the other, trying to explain why he did that, or she did that, was one of the most important moments [for] me [in] trying to understand the behaviour of human beings.

It was one of the most dismaying, but also one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I wrote about it, because I am coming from a country where reconciliation is still to be finished. This was a lively example of how people can talk [to] each other. Maybe not forgiven, but in any case not forgotten. Because if you forget about history – as it has been said – you can repeat it.

Let’s hope not. I do not think it is going to happen again in Rwanda.

While I could barely fathom the unbelievable cruelties that occurred, I was also touched beyond words by the resilience of people whose relatives were butchered and who decided to embrace reconciliation. To reconcile is an act of bravery that shows the height of what human beings are capable of – the best and the worst.

Rwanda has succeeded in reconciliation and reconstruction in a way that no one would have predicted or even dared to hope for 30 years ago.

Reconciliation and reconstruction is as incredible as the Genocide itself. How human beings can look to the future and try not to forget, but forgive the past.

In the case of Rwanda, it is especially amazing, important, because it has happened in a short period of time, while the memory is still alive. People are still alive: the ones who did it and the ones who suffered it. They can witness, they can explain.

Reconciliation is not easy. It is a painful endeavour that can only succeed based on the recognition of what happened, on accountability for the perpetrators and on the preservation of the memory of the victims. These are the three conditions of a true reconciliation.

Because reconciliation is not to put sand over the memory in order to forget. Reconciliation is not [looking] to the other side. Reconciliation is to look into the eyes of the others and recognise what happened, and asking for accountability – because accountability is “you know, I forgive your sins, but you have a penitence, in the catholic religion” -, and the preservation of the memory of the victims.

The victims have to be honoured, have to be remembered. Their memory has to be kept. And these lessons are valid today for the international community.

We must speak up and redouble our efforts to stop hate speech and ethnic politics before they turn out of control, because it grows very quickly. And there are examples in history where words become arms that kill, kill a lot because [they] push others to kill. Because words can create a fire, they can toxify the minds of the people and make them believe that another human being does not deserve to live.

It is incredible but it happened, not a single time, many times in different places for different reasons.

So, we need to act at the right time, so we do not have to commemorate tragic events again.

We must reiterate our commitment to the prevention of genocide. The prevention. This can be prevented from happening. You may see it coming. You must act in order to stop it before it is too late. We must act across the world, trying to stop any crime against humanity. To spare no effort to do our utmost to thwart the repetition of any such abomination.

It is so difficult to understand, here, in Brussels, in this building, among people like you, that someone could be pushed to go to their neighbours’ house, with whom they were sharing life the day before, and kill all of them – women, children, men, elderly, babies – just because they belonged to another ethnicity? Another what? Another what?

Here in Europe, we know a lot also about genocide. That is why I understand very well what happened. Well, “I understand.” No, we do not understand. To say “I understand” is an oxymoron. Nobody can understand this.

But that is why we have in our memory also that human beings can be pushed to do these atrocities just because someone makes the words become arms, and toxify the minds of the people, in order to make them behave like animals, destroying other human beings just because they are different. They belong to another “I do not know what”: ethnicity, society, language, religion.

After the conclusion of this ceremony, I would like to invite you to visit the photographic exhibition on the ground floor of this building and thank you to the Mission of Rwanda [to the EU] for allowing us to show this exhibit.

And always remember that peacebuilding starts in your neighbourhood. Peacebuilding starts at home, in your staircase, in your quarter, in your street. Peace is very fragile, and it has to be kept [through] an everyday effort, by everybody.

The ones who share common history of cruelty and pain, more than anyone else, have to engage on keeping peace and respect for any human being. Nevertheless, it is with them that you have to build your future.

These results that Rwanda has achieved [are] a very powerful testimony of “Kwibuka”, as they say in the beautiful “country of a thousand hills”.

What can I say? Only to remember, to unite, and to renew. This has to be our common purpose, and I thank you very much for your presence and your attention.

Thank you.


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