Guterres urges people to shun xenophobia amid COVID-19 as UN marks Rwanda genocide


U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, in his message on the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, said that we “must say no to hate speech and xenophobia, and reject the forces of polarization, nationalism and protectionism”.

More than one million people who over the course of just 100 days, were systematically killed in Rwanda, 26 years ago.

While the COVID-19 pandemic precluded the usual commemorative event at UN Headquarters, the day was marked through virtual observance, where victims and survivors of the 1994 genocide were remembered by a renewed commitment to, among other things, identify early warning signs and collectively protect all persons affected by conflicts and crises.

“Only by recognizing that we are all one human family sharing the same planet, will we be able to rise to the many global challenges that confront us – from COVID-19 to climate change”, Guterres said.

Maintaining that those who survived the genocide inspire “reconciliation and restoration”, the UN chief stressed that since that dark chapter, Rwanda has demonstrated how “to rise from the ashes, to heal and to rebuild a stronger, more sustainable society”.

In closing, the Secretary-General encouraged everyone to take motivation from “the ongoing lesson of Rwanda” in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Upholding that those “unspeakable crimes pierced the conscience of the world”, UN General Assembly President, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, said that it was “our collective responsibility” to recommit to protecting civilians and preventing genocide from ever occurring again.

“Early intervention is key, and we must prioritize inclusion by fostering tolerance, combating hate speech, and promoting intercultural dialogue”, he elaborated.

In memory of the victims, Mr. Mohammad-Bande urged everyone to “counter hatred in all its manifestations” as he saluted the courageous survivors and those who tried to prevent the murders.

“I commend all Rwandan troops deployed to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world”, he emphasized. “Your service, born from sacrifice, gives hope to us all”.

Over the last 26 years, the country has become known for peace and prosperity, the Assembly president observed, saying, “we look forward to even brighter days ahead for Rwandans, who remain united in their commitment to reconciliation”.

“We must learn from their experience”, he concluded, “we must always remember, kwibuka”, when the national mourning period begins.

Although 26 years have passed, the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, Tatiana Valovaya, pointed out that “the memories of this tragedy are very much alive”.

Although Rwanda has learned from its tragedy, as mass atrocities occur with alarming frequency, she noted, it is obvious that the international community has not. Around the world, there is a groundswell of xenophobia, racism, antisemitism and intolerance.

“Hate speech not only challenges human rights norms and principles, it also undermines social cohesion, erodes shared values and lays the foundation for violence – setting back the cause of peace, stability, and the fulfilment of human rights for all”, she detailed, flagging that more than a decade later, preventing genocide remains “a cardinal task of our time”.

Keeping the memory alive and promoting tolerance, human values and peaceful co-existence, would prove that diversity is an asset, not a threat, according to the UN official.

“We owe it to our common future”, she concluded. (Source: UN News)