Press Releases

                                                                                                                            8 April 2004

    Secretary-General Pays Tribute to Rwandans for “Remarkable Resilience and Great Dignity” in Recovering from Genocide

    NEW YORK, 7 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, in Kigali, delivered by Ibrahim Gambari, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa:

    On this International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, I would like to start by paying tribute to the people of Rwanda for the remarkable resilience and great dignity they have shown in recovering from their national trauma.  I would also like to express my gratitude to the Government of Rwanda for the inclusive spirit with which it has pursued the path of reconstruction and reconciliation.  Rwanda has much to show the world about confronting the legacy of the past, and is demonstrating that it is possible to reach beyond tragedy and rekindle hope.

    We are all painfully aware that the genocide in Rwanda should never have happened.  Neither the Security Council, the UN Secretariat, governments in general nor the international media, paid enough attention to the gathering signs of disaster.  At least 800,000 men, women and children were abandoned to the most brutal of deaths, as neighbour killed neighbour.  The international community failed Rwanda.  That must leave us all -- and me personally -- with an abiding sense of bitter regret and sorrow.

    I myself, as head of the UN’s peacekeeping department at the time, pressed dozens of countries for troops.  I believed at the time that I was doing my best.  But I realized after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.  This painful memory, along with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has influenced much of my thinking, and many of my actions, as Secretary-General.

    Ten years later, we are still trying to cope with the consequences.  In Rwanda itself, the United Nations is doing its utmost to help people recover and reconcile.  We are present throughout the country -- clearing mines, repatriating refugees, rehabilitating clinics and schools, building up the judicial system, and much else.  In Tanzania, a United Nations criminal tribunal has handed down pioneering verdicts, including the first to find a former head of government, and journalists, guilty of genocide, and the first to determine that rape was used as an act of genocide.  With these and other steps, the United Nations is doing what it can to help Rwandans, especially the young generation who are the future of the country, build a new society together.

    But is the international community confident that we have learned the lessons of Rwanda?  Confronted by a new Rwanda today, could and would governments respond effectively, in good time?  We can by no means be certain this would happen.

    That is why I decided to use this anniversary to announce, earlier today in Geneva, before the UN Commission on Human Rights, a UN system-wide Action Plan to Prevent Genocide.  The Plan is meant to bring to bear the weight of the entire international community -- to prevent the armed conflicts that are the primary settings in which genocide occurs; to protect civilians, and especially minorities, who are the primary targets; to end impunity, through robust judicial systems, both national and international; and finally, to improve early warning, in order to recognize the signs of approaching genocide.

    We cannot afford to wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening, to sound the alarm.  If there is one legacy I would wish to leave to my successors, it is an Organization better equipped to prevent genocide, and able to act decisively to stop it when prevention fails.

    On this International Day of Reflection, let us express our deep remorse for the horror that befell Rwanda.  Let us recognize our common humanity.  And let us resolve to do all we can to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, anywhere on earth.

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