Vigilance is vital, Ban Ki-moon stresses at Rwandan genocide exhibition opening
Opening an exhibition at United Nations Headquarters in New York on the lessons learned from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tonight called on the international community to ensure that it never forgets what took place and never stops working to prevent another genocide.
“Preventing genocide is a collective and individual responsibility,” Mr. Ban said, stressing that governments, the media, religious organizations, civil society groups and even individuals have their own role to play in this fight.
He urged governments of UN Member States to give “real meaning” to the principle that they have a 'responsibility to protect' populations in danger of genocide or war crimes – which they agreed upon at a global summit in 2005 – by making that concept operational through practical steps.
Estimates vary but some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda are thought to have been killed by Hutu militias, often by machete or club, during a three-month period starting in April 1994.
“As we open this exhibition, our thoughts go to the victims – the more than 800,000 innocent people who lost their lives with terrifying speed. May they continue to rest in peace,” Mr. Ban said.
He recalled visiting the memorial in Rwanda before becoming Secretary-General, and said the impression would stay with him forever. “Anybody who visits there cannot come out without crying, without being very humbled about what had happened and what the international community failed to react,” he said.
“Our thoughts go to the survivors. Their resilience continues to inspire us. And our thoughts go to fallen colleagues of the UN family: peacekeepers and civilians who lost their lives in the line of duty as the genocide unfolded.”
In a message earlier this month marking the anniversary of the start of the genocide, the Secretary-General said he would strengthen UN mechanisms to try to help ensure that genocide never recurs.
The post of UN Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide – currently held by Juan E. Méndez of Argentina – will be upgraded to a full-time position, while the UN Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention will also be boosted.
The exhibition at UN Headquarters, postponed from earlier this month, highlights the role of States in preventing genocide, examines what happened in Rwanda, emphasizes the plight of victims, particularly those who suffered from sexual violence, and details the warning signs for genocide.
The Aegis Trust, a British non-governmental organization (NGO), produced the exhibit – which will be on display for the next three weeks – in partnership with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI). The exhibit includes information panels and a film containing the testimony of three female survivors of the genocide.