By: Fadumo Mumin
Saturday April 7th 2012 marked the 18th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, a date conserved by the African Union Commission. The annual ceremony which commemorates the memory of the victims was held in Addis Ababa in the company of Professor Andreas Eshete, Chairperson of the Interim Board of the AU Human Rights Memorial (AUHRM). The event was attended by representatives of the Ethiopian government, the authorities of the Republic of Rwanda, civil society organisations, African Union (AU) officials, national human rights institutions, as well as intergovernmental organisations and religious leaders.
A minute silence was observed at AU headquarters in Addis in memory of the estimated one million people who perished in the genocide which took place over a hundred days. Africans remembered one the worst, most devastating and systematic genocides to ever occur in modern history.
Influenced by the principle of ‘Learning from our history to build a brighter future’ the event featured the presentation of a short documentary film depicting and explaining the effects of the atrocities on Rwanda. Further respects were also paid to the victims with a musical play by school pupils, songs and prayers as well as a ceremonial lighting of candles.
While this date marks as an opportunity for African’s to mourn the victims of the Rwandan atrocities it also serves as a reminder of the Organisation of African States (OAU) and the international community’s failures in the lead up to April 1994.
Though the international community passed laws fifty years ago to prevent genocide from ever being perpetrated, the Rwandan genocide woefully demonstrated the international communities’ negligence in preventing the devastating atrocities endured by Rwandans in April 1994. State perpetrated genocide under the pretext of civil war in which an estimated 200,000 people participated in blinded commentators and diplomats alike from the fact that the genocide was planned and perpetrated by the state. Consequently the OAU’s traditional principal of non-interference in internal affairs immobilised any attempts to stop the genocide.
This dark reality of history was honourably addressed in the ceremony by His Excellency the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Jean Ping when he stated ‘There was guilt not only on the perpetrators but also on all of us who stood by and did nothing’.
Established upon the consideration and reflection of the grave failures of the OAU the African Unions Constitutive act encourages state and regional relations and the preservation of human rights principles above principles of non-interference. The commemoration then is an opportunity to reiterate the African Union’s commitments in building the AU Human Rights Memorial to ensuring that such human rights atrocities are never repeated in Africa.
Despite those arguments which question the benefits and capacity of memorialising this atrocity as one of the four permanent memorials, one aspect in undeniable. While national memorials of the genocide such as the Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial in Kirehe exist to unite ‘Rwandans’ in mourning and remembrance of those atrocities. The African Union Human Rights Memorial Project (AUHRM) will serve the memory of the Rwandan Genocide as a unifying, inclusive and inspiring symbol to future generations of the continent when remembering those who perished in Rwanda in April 1994.
Recognising past afflictions not only preserves the memory of mass atrocities but also educates future generations of Africa; an essential preventative measure in the interest of future peace and security on the continent. By innately connecting Africans, the AUHRM Project will serve as a powerful and thought provoking educative public space in which all Africans can unite and honour in the words of Professor Eshete, ‘the memory of these tragically lost African lives’.
This sincere endeavour of the AUHRM’s project was articulately expressed by Professor Andreas Eshete, Chair of the Interim Board of the AUHRM, when he expressed ‘The collective responsibility for the dark past and the collective obligation for the future, solemnly symbolized by the AU Human Rights Memorial, must be faithfully passed on to future generations. After all, Africa’s moral history is an important lasting legacy to the continent’s emergent generations’
Fadumo Mumin has a BA in Journalism and Communications with Media and Cultural Studies from Middlesex University and a MSc in International Relations from Kingston University. She is currently interning with Justice Africa.