Today (4 April), the Bundestag remembered the victims of the genocide in Rwanda 20 years ago. In his speech, Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that the international community had failed in Rwanda and would have to live up to its responsibility to do everything in its power to prevent genocide.
In literature and in the vernacular, Rwanda is often called the land of a thousand hills. On one of these hills in Murambi district, something very terrible happened in April 1994: when the mass slaughter began, tens of thousands of Tutsis fled to a school there which was considered safe. Not long after, militia surrounded the building and began to kill people. Tens of thousands died just in one day on that hill.
Living up to the responsibility
Foreign Minister Steinmeier began his speech to the German Bundestag in remembrance of the victims of the genocide in Rwanda with this bleak description. The Foreign Minister said it was difficult to understand how Earth could keep on turning after the horrors of the genocide. As a German, however, he could not speak of genocide in Africa without remembering the genocide in Germany. Steinmeier went on to say that although the tragedies were different, the same lessons had to be learned:
The most important lesson which has to be taken from a day of remembrance like today is: never again! Yet, how we can live up to this responsibility is a much more difficult question.
Failure of the international community
The German Foreign Minister went on to say that by adopting the Genocide Convention following the Holocaust, the international community had resolved never to allow another genocide to take place – but it had broken this promise. “The international community failed when it withdrew its blue helmets from Rwanda 20 years ago in the midst of the violence.” Steinmeier reaffirmed that the international community therefore had a special responsibility for the victims:
We owe it to them not to give in to feelings of powerlessness and most certainly not those of indifference – to not only speak out but do everything in our power to prevent genocide!
Africa – a continent on the rise
However, Steinmeier went on to say that many new things were emerging in Africa: “Africa is a continent on the rise and we have to support its progress.” He added that the tools available within the scope of Germany’s policy on Africa – comprising economic investment as well as cultural exchange, disarmament or the training of security forces – had to be as diverse as Africa’s development. All of these instruments would therefore be incorporated into the German Government’s Africa policy guidelines.
The Minister stated that the lessons learned from the genocide therefore included the promise of prosperity alongside the promise of peace. Only if the economic upswing in Africa created opportunities for everyone and enabled them to enjoy a measure of prosperity could it promote social cohesion and ensure lasting peace – so that the thousand hills “will again be home and provide fertile land to those building Rwanda today”.