Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier in the German Bundestag remembering the victims of the genocide in Rwanda

04.04.2014 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

“The mountains of Rwanda radiate warmth and benevolence, tempt with beauty and silence, a crystal clear, windless air, the peace and exquisiteness of their lines and shapes. In the mornings, a transparent haze suffuses the green valleys.”

Mr President,
Members of this House,

That’s how Ryszard Kapuscinski describes Rwanda’s landscape. Rwanda is known in the vernacular as the “land of a thousand hills”.

One of these thousand hills is in Murambi. Tens of thousands of Tutsis fled there when the genocide in Rwanda began 20 years ago.

“You’ll be safe up on the hill, in the newly built school,” the bishop had said.

But in the early morning of 21 April 1994, militia groups surrounded the school building and began to kill – with machetes, knives and clubs: a bloodshed which seemed to last forever.

Tens of thousands of people died on this hill in one single day.

Jonathan Nturo survived the massacre as a small boy. Today he says looking over the hill, “I’m surprised sometimes that grass still grows here. That life goes on.”

Yes, it’s difficult to understand how Earth can continue to turn after the horrors of genocide.

That’s how I felt the first time I visited Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Auschwitz. Indeed, that’s how everyone feels when they visit these places. But the grass still grows there, too. Now in spring, the trees are even blossoming.

As a German, I’m careful about making historical comparisons. They don’t do justice to the unique and incomparable nature of these crimes. Indeed, they don’t do justice to the unique nature of the history and culture of individual nations.

And yet: as a German I can’t talk about a genocide in Africa without remembering the one for which we were responsible. These were fateful and tragic events on our continents. They influence our actions to this very day and they influence our relations with one another.

These tragic events may be as different as our landscapes: the hills of Rwanda, the forests of Auschwitz, the poppy fields of Verdun. Yet the lessons we learned from them form a link between us. They are the lessons of our shared humanity.

The most important lesson which has to be taken from a day of remembrance like today is:

never again!

Yes, never again. Yet, how we can live up to this responsibility is a much more difficult question.

For let’s be honest, the international community has shouted loud and clear “never again!” before. That was in 1948, after the Holocaust, when the United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention. But we were unable to keep this pledge. The international community failed when it withdrew its blue helmets from Rwanda in the midst of the violence.And we also have to admit that in the present day, the demons of genocide have by no means been banished:

Even though the international community developed the concept of “responsibility to protect” in response to what happened in Rwanda, even though it has improved prevention, operational capability and international criminal justice. We don’t talk of genocide everywhere but we’re faced with never-ending bloodshed in the Congo, Central Africa and Syria.

We can never make amends to Jonathan Nturo and all other victims of crimes against humanity for the loss of their children, fathers, mothers and friends. However, we owe them one thing, even if we’ve to honestly admit that we can’t stop every injustice or instance of bloodshed: 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!

Rwanda is in the process of coming to grips with the past, of building a new Rwanda. So many new developments have been emerging all over Africa in the last few years. Africa is changing more quickly than our perception of the continent.

That’s why I travelled to Ethiopia, Tanzania and Angola last week. As different as these countries are, I heard the same appeal from almost everyone with whom I spoke. The appeal was: we don’t want to be beggars at Europe’s gates. The African continent is viable on its own and, at least potentially, can provide food and development for everyone.

When it comes to peace and stability, many say: we Africans want to take responsibility for our own security! We don’t want to ask Europe to send troops but, rather, we want to be able to guarantee our own security, to act on our own.

Members of this House, that also has to be in our interest. Of course, we Europeans also want Africa to take its fate in its own hands. Africa is a continent on the rise and we’ve to do everything in our power to support its progress.We Europeans have to increasingly see ourselves as the partners of states in Africa. We need partners for the global challenges we both face and which we know only too well we can only master if we work together.

Both sides have realised how close our continents have moved together. We’ve realised how much we depend on the stability of the other side. We Europeans experience that, for example, when refugees from Africa’s crisis regions reach Europe’s borders. And Africans notice this when the economic crisis in Europe also makes its impact felt in Africa.

Our goal is easy to describe: strong, responsible partners in Africa. But there are many ways to achieve this.

Africa is developing far too quickly and too diversely for us to give our political engagement a snappy motto. Although the world of politics and the media are keen to find such a motto – Africa is neither simply a continent racked by crises nor a continent full of opportunities. Former Federal President Horst Köhler is most likely right: such judgements say much more about us than they do about Africa.

My view is that the tools available within the scope of Germany’s policy on Africa have to be as diverse as Africa’s development.

Depending on the country and on its situation, these tools comprise economic investment as well as disarmament and the containment of small arms; cultural exchange as well as road construction; strengthening the rule of law as well as training security forces.

I’ve seen all of these instruments on my trip and they will all be included in the German Government’s Africa policy guidelines which we’re currently drawing up.

Foreign policy is a balancing act between the quest for common ground and respect for our differences – also the recognition of what is incompatible.

Our common ground with Africa – I saw this very clearly during my trip – goes far beyond “never again war and genocide”.First of all, Europeans and Africans have learned to work with instead of against their neighbours. This is the guiding principle of regional integration.

I fear that we sometimes underestimate what is being achieved nowadays by African organisations. Many simply don’t know that the African Union is currently deploying 70,000 troops in conflicts within Africa and is seeking earnestly and not always successfully to restore stability where it has been lost. Strengthening Africa’s own responsibility, which is necessary for this, played a major role at the EU-Africa summit this week.

We Germans are making very concrete contributions towards this by, for example, supporting the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana or the Peace and Security Centre, which is being built in the grounds of the African Union in Addis Ababa and is due to be opened next year, more punctually than some construction projects in Germany. I was able to see this project with my own eyes during my Africa trip.

Second, we’ve learned to protect people’s diversity.

In a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide, Rwanda’s Ambassador to Germany said, “We’re building a Rwanda in which everyone [...] can develop their potential and enjoy the same rights.”

Living in diversity – that’s only possible in a state governed by the rule of law on which everyone can rely. I’m firmly convinced that this diversity includes freedom of opinion or religion as well as freedom of sexual orientation.

That, too, was a principle which played a role on every stop on my trip. For example, during my visit to the German-Tanzanian Law Centre in Dar es Salaam, where I met students who I hope will have an impact one day on the rule of law in East Africa. Many of their teachers studied at German universities. I’d therefore like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the many German universities engaged on the African continent, in particular the German Academic Exchange Service, which has worked with boundless energy for this cooperation through its scholarship programmes.Third, we’ve learned that peace or conflict also have a material basis, especially when it is missing.

The genocide 20 years ago was fuelled by material need and scarce resources – conflicts which those in power used systematically to get as many people as possible involved in the murders.

The lessons learned from the genocide therefore include the pledge of peace just as much as the pledge of prosperity. One is inconceivable without the other.

The Congo, Nigeria and Angola – all of these states teach us that oil, gas, gold and diamonds alone cannot ensure a prosperous development in which everyone can participate. Rather, this has to be organised at the political level.

Only if the economic upswing creates opportunities for everyone and enables them to enjoy a measure of prosperity can it promote social cohesion. Only then will it ensure lasting peace.

More than to anyone else, we owe this twofold pledge of peace and prosperity to our young people.

I’ll never forget one impression from my Africa trip. In Addis Ababa I met the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Ms Dlamini-Zuma. After our talks, a journalist asked her a clear question, “What is Africa’s greatest expectation of Europe?”

And Ms Zuma gave an equally clear answer, something which is not exactly typical of a politician. She said, “Our young people! For their sake, we want to cooperate with Europe, for their vocational training, for their economic prospects.”

In response, the journalist asked the inverse question, “And what can Europe expect of Africa?”

And again Ms Zuma replied, “Our young people! Our young people are our asset and Europe will also benefit from this asset.”Ladies and gentlemen,

The lessons to be learned from the tragic events in our past form a bond between us. 20 years after the genocide, Rwanda is on its way to a new future, without suppressing or forgetting the past.

The thousand hills of Rwanda are and will remain one of Africa’s fateful landscapes.

Roméo Dallaire, who cam to Rwanda in 1993 as the commander of the blue helmets, exclaimed on seeing the thousand hills: “This a Garden of Eden”. Only a few months later he had to stand by full of shame and anger and watch the massacre.

The memory is etched on the thousand hills. Their name remains linked to the crime against humanity committed 20 years ago.

Members of this House,Alongside all the memories which lie in this landscape –may the thousand hills again be home and provide fertile land to those building Rwanda today.

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