By Edward Clay
What happened in Rwanda in three months from April to July, 1994, was unprecedented in the history of the world. It was unprecedented considering that between 800,000 and one million people were killed within only three months.
I was High Commissioner to Uganda in 1994, and non-resident Ambassador to Rwanda. And by a curious coincidence, I had in 1964, a full 30 years earlier, worked in Burundi. I visited Rwanda for the first time and presented my credentials to the then President Habyarimana a month before his assassination was used to precipitate the final act of the Rwandan disaster.
It was not until the massacres of 1994 were well advanced that I and others even began to speak of genocide. We had been warned in advance by some that this was planned. Failing to recognise the validity of those warnings was at least a failure of information and of understanding and analysis.
When I returned to Rwanda in July 1994 just before the fighting ended and again just after, I saw in a compound of a tea company the car of one of their managers. Among the items on the passenger seat was his ID card. Its main feature was the word "Hutu" reflecting the universal practice of labelling Rwandans according to their ethnicity. He had been killed notwithstanding his ethnicity.
It was a series of steps which took past Rwandan governments from describing their citizens by their ethnic origin to begin to divide Rwandans into those for and against the government, and eventually to describing them as "cockroaches".
In that way they de-humanised people, they created the notion that some citizens were inconvenient, a sign of lack of political hygiene, that they could, and eventually should, be stamped underfoot.
Radio Mille Collines made of this name-calling a broadcasting policy. They propagated and nurtured it before most of us were aware that there was an extermination plan. In doing so, they spread the inhuman assumptions which led people to believe, when the time came, that they could and should kill those who were Tutsis.
My other point concerns the nature of governments. The Rwandan government's persecution of its citizens was a long and dishonourable theme in the first three decades of that country's independent history.
What has happened since the genocide of 1994 is unprecedented. The world's response after the event has been to recognise a massive failure. But the soul-searching since 1994 has led the United Nations General Assembly to designate today, April 7, as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda.
Two, Resolution 58/234 of last 23 December calls on all member-states to implement the recommendations of the independent Inquiry into the actions of the UN in Rwanda during 1994; and three, it calls upon all States to act in accordance with the Genocide Convention to prevent any recurrence of events of the kind that occurred in Rwanda.
What has been done to try to prevent a recurrence?
First, there has been a recognition that States cannot just carry on as if what happens inside their borders is strictly their own affair.
Second, there has been a great advance in acceptance that human rights are or ought to be a central concern of the international community as well as of national governments.
Third, there has been agreement that genocide is a peculiarly vile crime requiring its own unique remedies. All States are enjoined to help search for and prosecute those accused of genocide in the case of Rwanda. The UN has established the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda. From the outside, the European Union has worked hard to improve its own capacity to react quickly to crises. Its "Operation Artemis" last year helped, in cooperation with the UN, to prevent acts of genocide in Ituri.
Finally, there has been general recognition that Africa's poverty increases the competition for what resources there are within countries. Making a successful use of those resources and that goodwill depends as much on African governments, and on the way they govern, as on anything else.
Given the pernicious role of Radio Mille Collines, it is not surprising that the role of information has been scrutinised also: those who are information-poor, dependant on only one medium, often controlled by government, are also suffering from a serious form of poverty. They are vulnerable to propaganda of the worst kind.
One of the first acts of the British's Department for International Development (DfID) in Rwanda after the genocide was to fund the establishment of a radio station designed to be independent of factions and to promote reconciliation. We continue to provide support to help develop free and independent media.
Any fair-minded and sympathetic person must recognise and applaud the progress the Rwandans have made in the past 11 years: their efforts to achieve national reconciliation; their determination to ensure that never again can there be a recurrence of 1994; the referendum on a new constitution and the milestone represented by their elections two years ago.
The European Union and its member-states play a major role in supporting Rwanda; in supporting the efforts of the UN Secretary General to provide a stronger UN role in the effective prevention of genocide; and in supporting African efforts to strengthen its own peace-keeping and conflict-prevention capabilities.
My government, which had no traditional links with Rwanda, is now that country's largest bilateral development partner.
Today we condole with the people of Rwanda as they and many of us remember their suffering. We commemorate with them the dead; and we offer our solidarity and support to all those who suffered so grievously and survived. We salute that nation's efforts to achieve reconciliation and development. We hope our collective efforts will make a reality of that promise of "never again".
Sir Edward Clay is Britain's envoy to Kenya.
By Edward Clay