On this day 20 years ago began one of the worst atrocities the world has ever witnessed. While a single event acted as if a switch was flipped to start the genocide, there were many things leading up to April 6, 1994 that paved the way for a nearly countywide policy to exterminate fellow countrymen. Today, and for the next 100 days we remember those who died. And we stand with their families, their loved ones, and their friends. But while we remember we must also look to the present and the future. We must take the harsh lessons that Rwanda taught us and put them to use. We must not say “never again” while we habitually fail again and again. Still, to this day, 20 years since Rwanda, the prevention and mitigation of episodes of mass atrocities and genocide are not a priority for the world.
While more needs to be done for the international community to be able to respond better in the face of horrific events, we must also look to affect real, lasting and sustainable change domestically around the world so that mass atrocities and genocide are never a possibility. Ending genocide and mass atrocities is both an external and an internal struggle.
Externally we need to be better able to assist in capacity building, education, reconciliation, and support. We need to be able to stand up for those who may otherwise be unable to and we need to speak truth to power to those who would seek to exploit or exterminate others. Internally we need to look to our own actions, our own issues, and behaviors. The only way genocide and mass atrocities are able to occur is if people are willing to carry them out. People like you and me, just people. So long as the voices and actions of those who seek to profess hate and do harm are louder and more forceful than those who extol compassion and kindness, we will never achieve “never again”. For never again to be a reality, for genocide and mass atrocities to be something that kids only learn about in history class instead of from first hand experiences, we have to take it upon ourselves to write our own future.
Today on the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda I ask you to think about the world 20 years from now. Will we be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and looking at comparisons to other places fraught with genocide and mass atrocities as we do today in places like CAR, Syria, and South Sudan? Or will we be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and celebrating a shorter but equally meaningful anniversary of the last instance of genocide or mass atrocities? I sincerely hope for myself and for my children that it is the latter.