Rwandan Genocide debate

8th May 2014
Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I beg to move,
That this House commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when over the course of a 100-day period in 1994 at least 800,000 Rwandans were murdered; and calls on the Government to reinforce its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and to working within the UN to promote international justice and to avoid mass atrocities which are still committed across the globe today.
I am delighted to have the opportunity, on my birthday, to open today’s debate marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a 100-day period in 1994. That appalling episode left almost 1 million dead, 3 million refugees, a region riddled with insecurity, and a country and a people struggling to comprehend the enormity of the horrors inflicted on them.
To all the Tutsis and moderate Hutus who died, 7 April 1994 marked the beginning of 100 days of hell—100 days of rape, torture, murder and unspeakable horrors. It was the beginning of 100 days that took nearly 1 million lives. For those who bore witness to Rwanda’s genocide, it was a time that humanity seemed to forget. The Rwandan genocide saw wives become widows and children become orphans. Roughly three quarters of the Tutsi population were eliminated, and Rwanda suffered greatly. Attackers burned down churches with hundreds or thousands of Tutsis inside and slaughtered their victims with machetes. Hundreds of mass graves were dug across the country to bury the victims of what was a long-planned killing spree.
As Linda Melvern, the journalist and author, said in one of the Committee Rooms of the House on 26 March to those of us commemorating the genocide:
“Here was the direst of all human situations. The crime of genocide—the intent to destroy a human group…There were no sealed trains or secluded camps in Rwanda. A planned and political campaign, the genocide of the Tutsi took place in broad daylight.”
On the 20th anniversary of the genocide, people are talking again of tribes in Rwanda—the Hutu tribe, the Tutsi tribe—but it is important to remember that the Hutus and Tutsis were the same before colonial rule created a divide. They lived in the same space on the same hills, spoke the same language, had the same religion and often intermarried. The only difference was a superficial judgment on appearance and occupation. In 1994, Rwanda was 85% Hutu, 14% Tutsi and 1% Twa.
As many Members will know, the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide came about on 6 April 1994, when President Juvénal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down as it came in to land at Kigali airport. Immediately, a pre-planned policy of extermination of all Tutsis was triggered, and throughout the entire country, right down to every village, Hutus turned on their Tutsi neighbours and slaughtered them. The Hutus who attempted to intervene or prevent the violence were also killed.
The international community should have responded to the Rwandan genocide, but in 1994 it collectively failed to do anything to help the Rwandan people in their hour of need. The Americans had been traumatised by the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia the previous October, making the Clinton Administration unwilling to intervene, especially in Africa. Regrettably, Britain did nothing, having no interest in a former Belgian colony. France, much to its shame, continued to support the interim Rwandan Government even after it became clear that they were driving the planned genocide.
The international response to the Rwandan genocide was woeful, as was the lack of action by the United Nations. There were dreadful misreadings of what was happening, and the plight of the Tutsis was ignored, with many people refusing to acknowledge that the events taking place were a genocide of the Tutsis. Indeed, not one Government called on the perpetrators to stop the genocide. Not one UN member state severed diplomatic ties. Not one Government called for the representative of the interim Rwandan Government to be suspended from the chamber of the UN. The international community turned its back on Rwanda and left the Tutsi people to their fate.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): One real problem at the time was the fact that the UN international assistance mission for Rwanda was there under a chapter VI mandate from the Security Council—peacekeeping rather than peace enforcement—and had really rotten rules of engagement. No one in the Security Council was prepared to increase the potency of those peacekeepers on the ground. More than that, as my hon. Friend knows, the Belgians withdrew their paratroopers and left the general there absolutely alone, with 246 people.
Mr Newmark: My hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right. Anybody who has seen the film “Shooting Dogs” will know the frustrations that the general felt at the lack of support and the lack of acknowledgment that a genocide was taking place. The title “Shooting Dogs” was because the peacekeepers could shoot dogs, since they might eat dead bodies or attack people, but could not shoot individuals who were slaughtering the Tutsis right in front of them.
It is easy for us to say, “It must never happen again”, but it may happen at any moment, and perhaps already is in Syria, the Central African Republic and north-eastern Nigeria—places where the wrong ID card or recognition of one’s tribe can still carry a death sentence. I wish to take this opportunity to reflect on not only the lessons and legacies of the genocide itself but the steps taken by the international community to ensure that it never happens again and by Rwanda in its transition to a peaceful and more prosperous future.
The horrific events that transpired during the Rwandan genocide, and later in Srebrenica, served as the impetus for all UN member states to commit unanimously at the 2005 world summit to the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. At the world summit, states acknowledged that the world should no longer tolerate political indifference and inaction, whenever and wherever populations face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes. By committing to the responsibility to protect, known as R2P, countries committed to protecting populations at risk of crimes such as the one experienced in Rwanda in 1994.
Since 2005, UN member states have taken important steps to strengthen the responsibility to protect at both international and domestic level. Those initiatives include the creation of a global network of focal points and the development of domestic and regional capacities to prevent genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. Since 2011, the UN Security Council has also invoked R2P when authorising measures to protect civilians in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya, South Sudan and elsewhere, although I believe that today we are once again falling short of our responsibility to protect in Syria. Preventing mass atrocity crimes is a responsibility that we must all bear and a principle for which we should all work. States should continue to build support for R2P and ensure that it is consistently and effectively implemented in practice.
The UK has also taken steps to reduce international war crimes and protect civilians. The Foreign Secretary’s work in calling for an end to rape as a weapon of war is highly necessary and important. In June he will ask 140 nations to write action against sexual violence into military training and doctrine. If that vital piece of work had been in place 20 years ago, perhaps many women and girls would have been saved from this cruel weapon of war. We need to continue to work to ensure that the horrific events in Rwanda do not unfold elsewhere in the future.
Dr Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, noted that the best way to honour the memory of those murdered in 1994 is to build a world where the international community permits no people to stand alone when threatened by genocide. The 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide compels us to reflect, but also to act and uphold our collective responsibility to protect.
I believe that the UK will continue to fight to ensure that the events of 7 April to 17 July 1994 do not recur, and I was pleased that the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), took time to attend commemorations in Kigali to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide. It is important that we remember the terrible events of 1994 and as a nation pay tribute to the victims.
Over the past 20 years, Rwanda’s development has been truly astonishing, and the UK has played a leading role in helping to transform it from a failed war-torn state into a stable and growing economy. In particular, the UK has done much to help the country’s poorest people lift themselves out of poverty over the past two decades. Britain is helping thousands of children across Rwanda to get an education, giving them the chance of a better future. We are helping more than half a million people to get a job so that they can lift themselves out of poverty. We are also helping thousands of families to ensure that they have enough food to eat to lead healthier, happier lives.
The UK is supporting a programme in Rwanda to help build peace and reconciliation following the genocide. We are helping to teach schoolchildren how they can become ambassadors for peace in their country, and funding vital research into how we can prevent genocide from happening again. To commemorate the genocide, the Department for International Development provided £2.5 million to support the Aegis Trust’s work in upgrading the Kigali genocide memorial and helping communities to reconcile their differences. Over the next three years, Britain’s support will help to establish a genocide archive and fund new research on how to prevent future genocide, and ensure that the event of the genocide is stored and made more accessible, including with online documentation from the gacaca courts. Finally, Aegis will undertake research on preventing genocide, and will provide education about it and its causes to Rwandan schoolchildren, communities and youth leaders.
Since I first visited Rwanda in 2007, I have seen an enormous amount of progress. The overriding feeling that I get every time I visit the country is of a people wanting to move onwards and upwards to a better future. Indeed, I am making my own small contribution to Rwanda by setting up my own charity, A Partner in Education, and building a primary school in Kigali called Umubano, which means togetherness in Kinyarwandan. The school was built two years ago and currently educates 175 children, including many vulnerable children from poor backgrounds. Rwanda has few natural resources, and therefore its future lies in its children. Through my school, I am delighted to make my own small contribution to Rwanda’s future.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, we owe it not only to the victims of the 1994 genocide, but to all victims of genocide to remain vigilant, proactive, and to remember the sacrifice that they never deserved to make. To mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda we should say: never again.
I conclude by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for taking me to Rwanda in 2007 on project Umubano—a Conservative party initiative that has worked on a variety of social action projects over the past seven years. That early introduction to Rwanda has led to a love of the country and its people, and a lifetime commitment to support its future development.
I thank my team, both past and present, at A Partner in Education, for all they have done and continue to do, including Kitty Llewellyn, Alvin Mihigo, Pippa Richards—who shares a birthday with me today—Stephen Bayley, Kate Hanon, Emily Gilkinson and Angie Kotler. I also thank SURF, the survivors charity, and the Aegis Trust, for their work in ensuring that future generations learn the lessons of the terrible event of 1994. I thank my constituent, Hayley Boatwright, for her input into this speech, and finally I thank Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, for her friendship and support for my endeavours to give Rwanda a better future.
At the conclusion of the debate
Mr Newmark: I thank the Backbench Business Committee, and indeed the Leader of the House, for their support in enabling this important debate to take place in the main Chamber. I also thank Members in all parts of the House for their excellent contributions, and for sharing their respective experiences. I congratulate this Government and the last Government, especially the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, on their commitment to helping Rwanda on its path to recovery, and—this point was made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas)—on welcoming Rwanda to the Commonwealth of Nations.
As for those who died in 1994, we will remember them, and honour them, by reaffirming in the House today the words “Never again.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when over the course of a 100-day period in 1994 at least 800,000 Rwandans were murdered; and calls on the Government to reinforce its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and to working within the UN to promote international justice and to avoid mass atrocities which are still committed across the globe today.

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