Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director 

Commemoration of International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda  

18 March 2022

Ambassador Rwakazina,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured and humbled to be here with you today, to reflect on one of modern history’s worst atrocities.

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda brutally ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Tutsi, just for being who they were.

Their fate was shared by many moderate Hutu and others, just for opposing the eradication of their fellow human beings.

In the span of three months, the world witnessed the very worst of humanity, when murder, violence, and rape became a policy systematically enacted, and the international community failed to intervene and defend the innocent.

The world owes a debt to those who lost their lives, and those who survived and found the courage to move on.

The stories of the victims and survivors stand as a warning against the horrors that can happen when hate strips human beings of their humanity.

That warning is becoming more pertinent every day.

The genocide in Rwanda took place in the midst of violence and instability, which fanned the flames of discrimination.

As the Secretary-General pointed out in his message, our world today is overwhelmed with conflict and strife.

War rages on in Europe, while conflicts in Africa and the Middle East persist and grow.

This is fertile soil for violent hate to take hold.

Racism, hate speech, and xenophobia are resurgent in public discourse around the world, mirroring the kind of hate that led to genocide in Rwanda and in other places.

Many countries have reported spikes in the number of hate crimes taking place over the past few years, while new communications technologies have given rise to new risks that were not present in 1994.

Social media platforms have been shown, in certain cases, to create avenues for demonization, incitement, and the spread of hate speech.

In some countries, studies showed hate speech on social media to have increased by as much as 20 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The responsibility to protect people from atrocity crimes starts with preventing the conditions and factors conducive to those crimes.

At this challenging moment in history, we must all understand the very real risks of genocide. We must confront hateful and divisive narratives, and we must listen to the voices of minorities everywhere.

Where conflict has broken out, the most vulnerable must be protected, and safe passage for refugees must be secured.

We cannot go back and change the past, but we can honour the victims and survivors of 1994 by learning the lessons of history.

Rwanda’s history warns of what can happen when hate takes over, but it also tells a story of how a country can move on with dignity and conviction.

Despite the horrors that took place, Rwanda went on to set an example for the world, embarking on a journey of justice and reconciliation.

The fruits of that journey have been clear.

Rwanda became one of Africa’s leading economies, consistently achieving growth rates of over 6 percent in the years since the genocide, significantly reducing poverty, and improving life expectancy.

Some have labelled it the “Rwandan miracle”.

A special word of appreciation must go to the women of Rwanda.

They suffered profoundly during the genocide, with up to 500,000 women subjected to gender-based violence.

Yet they were left with the bulk of the responsibility in rebuilding the country, constituting around 70 percent of the post-genocide population.

Today, women make up nearly two-thirds of Rwanda’s parliament, and more than half of the country’s cabinet, as well as 4 out of 7 supreme court judges.

Rwanda’s women found the strength to carry on, and to move their country forward with them. They advocated for peace, resolved local disputes, served in the justice sector, and played a central role in shaping socioeconomic polices.

I very much look forward to hearing the testimony of Ms. Yvette Umuhoza, a survivor of the 1994 genocide who is gracing us today.

Her story will help us better understand the genocide and its lessons.

I am also grateful to the esteemed guests who are leading us in commemorating this important chapter in history through song and poetry.

I would like to thank Ambassador Rwakazina for coming to Vienna and sharing with us this opportunity to keep the memory of the victims alive.

With their sacrifice as our compass, we must stand watchful against the rise of genocidal hate, and we must vow to do better if it rises once again.

We owe it to those who suffered and died in Rwanda.

Thank you.