Press Releases

    SG/SM/9225
                                                                                                                            AFR/871
                                                                                                                            30 March 2004

    If Confronted Today by New Rwanda, Can World Respond Effectively? Asks Secretary-General in Message to London Forum

    NEW YORK, 29 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the Rwanda Forum, organized by “Never Again”, the Imperial War Museum and the Rwandan Embassy, delivered by Ibrahima Fall, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, in London, 27 March:

    I would like to thank the organizers for making this important forum possible, and for granting me an opportunity to address the participants.

    You are all painfully aware, as I am, that the genocide in Rwanda should never have happened.  But it did.  The international community failed Rwanda, and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret and abiding sorrow.

    If the international community had acted promptly and with determination, it could have stopped most of the killing.  But the political will was not there, nor were the troops.  If the United Nations, government officials, the international media and other observers had paid more attention to the gathering signs of disaster, and taken timely action, it might have been averted.

    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.

    No one who followed world affairs or watched the news on television, day after sickening day, could deny that they knew a genocide was happening, and that it was happening on an appalling scale.  Some brave individuals tried to stop the killing, above all General Romeo Dallaire of Canada, the force commander of the small UN peacekeeping force that was on the ground at the time.  They were entitled to more help.

    Eight hundred thousand men, women and children were abandoned to the most brutal of deaths, as neighbour killed neighbour, and sanctuaries such as churches and hospitals were turned into slaughterhouses.  An entire country was shattered.  A terrible chain of events gradually engulfed the entire region in conflict.  Ten years later, we are still trying to pick up the pieces.

    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:  the first conviction for genocide by an international court; the first to hold a former head of government responsible for genocide; the first to determine that rape was used as an act of genocide; and the first to find journalists guilty 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.

    The genocide in Rwanda raised questions that affect all humankind -- fundamental questions about the authority of the Security Council, the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping, the reach of international justice, the roots of violence, and the responsibility of the international community to protect people threatened by genocide and other grave violations of human rights.  There have been some genuine advances -- practical and philosophical -- on some of these questions.  But still one must ask, are we confident that, confronted by a new Rwanda today, we can respond effectively, in good time?  We can by no means be certain we would.

    I have suggested a number of measures that would better equip the United Nations and its Member States to meet genocide with resolve, including a special rapporteur or adviser on the subject.  I am currently analysing what further steps could be taken.  The silence that has greeted genocides in the past must be replaced by a global clamour -- a clamour and a willingness to call what is happening by its true name.

    As you know, the General Assembly has designated 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda.  The Government of Rwanda has asked that the world’s observance of the Day include a minute of silence at 12:00 noon local time in each time zone.  I hope that people everywhere, no matter what their station in life, whether in crowded cities or remote rural areas, will set aside whatever they might be doing at noon on that day, and pause to remember the victims.  Let us be united in a way we were not   10 years ago.  And let us, by what we do in one single minute, send a message -- a message of remorse for the past, and of resolve to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again -- and let’s make it resound for years to come.

    May the victims of the Rwandan genocide rest in peace.  May our waking hours be lastingly altered by their sacrifice.  And may we all reach beyond this tragedy, and work together to recognize our common humanity.

    In that hopeful spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful forum.

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