By JOSHUA AHYONG
WASHINGTON — April is a month the international community wants to forget. This is because on April 7, the world remembers the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide. The United Nations declares that day as an “annual day of reflection on the genocide.” This is the least the UN can do. The UN was founded on the premise that it should prevent the occurrence of another Holocaust. Yet, events like the Rwandan Genocide have occurred even as recently as 21 years ago. The organization and the international community have failed in their humanitarian efforts – or lack thereof. And, as long as humanity exists, these events may continue to occur. But, maybe if the international community is constantly reminded, there is still a chance that we can prevent another Rwandan Genocide from happening.
“Acts of genocide” began in Rwanda by early morning on April 7, 1994, the morning after Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by an unknown assailant. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi rebel group aiming to take control of a Hutu-based government, was largely blamed for the attack. At first, the killings were political, targeting the opposition and moderate government officials. Soon after the administration’s political opponents were hunted down, the killings became ethnically-based. The Interhamwe, a militia trained by the government, started mercilessly killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Killings were based on a “title” on an ID card. Checkpoints were set up where the killings largely took place. Machetes were the killers’ weapon of choice. Men, women and children were killed indiscriminately, even in schools and churches. The Red Cross estimates the death toll to be around 800,000. The initial reaction of the international community was to first rescue all expatriates or foreigners in Rwanda and second withdraw all troops and peacekeepers from Rwanda. The effect was an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The events that took place now question the very purpose of these international organizations.
The point in the commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide is not to cause a day of grief for those who survived it. Nor is it mainly to put guilt into the hearts of those who participated in the killings. It should be a day when we, the international community, remember how we sat comfortably on our couches while hell on earth unfolded in Central Africa. And, as many of us open our books and come to class hoping to become the next leaders of the world, we should never forget this day of reflection. If we know about it, even just a little on the back of our minds as we make important decisions for the world, we can actually prevent another genocide from happening. April 7 should not be a day to remember humanity at its worst – how a people can turn against his or her own, but a day when we can remember the true value of life. This is not for our sake, nor for the sake of our own countries. This is for the 800,000 Rwandans who died just so we, the future world leaders, can be reminded once again how it is to be human.