Rwandan Genocide Reflection Day : Placing civilization's future on each of our shoulders

This weekend we pause to remember a tragedy of vast proportions - the 1994 Rwandan genocide. 800,000 people lost their lives in barely 100 days during a staggering explosion of hatred and violence. Despite the tragic lessons of the Holocaust and the killing fields of Cambodia, the world once again stood by as this gravest of crimes unfolded in real time. Brave leaders like Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, the commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, begged for the manpower and authority to stop the violence - instead his forces were cut and he was prevented from seizing arms caches. In Congress, only a few lonely voices like that of Congressman Tom Lantos, called for America to intervene to stop the tragedy. Clearly the world failed to learn the lessons of history and a terrible price was paid by the people of Rwanda.

As we mark this dreadful anniversary, we must commit ourselves to being alert to the ever present danger posed by evil forces that enter into a society’s consciousness like a thief in the night. Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of Hotel Rwanda and the 2011 recipient of the Lantos Human Rights Prize has observed; 

“The message {of hate} crept into our national consciousness very slowly. It did not happen all at once. We did not wake up one morning to hear it pouring out of the radio at full strength. It started with a sneering comment, the casual use of the term “cockroach”, the almost humorous suggestion that Tutsis should be airmailed back to Ethiopia. Stripping the humanity from an entire group of people takes time. It is an attitude that requires cultivation, a series of small steps, daily tending.”  


In the same way that cultivating hatred involves small degrading daily abuses, the noble task of upholding human rights and strengthening respect for all people is a work that should imbue everything we do. If we cannot win the battle for a future of greater dignity, justice, and rights for all people, then we will have lost the future, regardless of whatever technological, scientific, or economic heights we may attain.

The world must embrace its newly articulated Responsibility to Protect - this doctrine must become enshrined in international law as a moral duty that transcends national borders. Since the Holocaust we have often heard the phrase “Never Again” uttered but not honored. We at the Lantos Foundation, turn instead to the words of Tom Lantos who has placed the responsibility for the future firmly on each of our shoulders. He said, 

“The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.”

As we pray for the peace and rest of those lost in the Rwandan genocide, let us determine to “never rest” in defending our fellow human beings and the civilization we all share.