As we remember genocide we shouldn’t forget those killed for their religious beliefs

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On Tuesday afternoon, 70 candles will be lit across the United Kingdom to mark Holocaust Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Museum at the Mill in Mossley will be one of the venues chosen, and a candle will be lit by Jean Paul Samputu, one of the survivors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

During this time more than a million members of the Tutsi minority were murdered by the Hutu majority in 100 days of internecine madness while the rest of the world, including the USA and the UK, stood by and watched it happen.

All of this seems so far away now, but in fact it is closer than we think.

During the Provisional IRA campaign, there was a form of ethnic cleansing along the Irish border, when members of the UDR and their fellow unionists were murdered and maimed.

Even today, there is ethnic cleansing in many parts of the world, and even though the slaughter by Islamic militants in the Middle East, Nigeria and elsewhere cannot be described as a “holocaust”, it all adds up to wholesale murder of people because of their cultural and religious beliefs.

The danger also lurks nearer home, with the kind of Paris-style murders by Islamic militants which could happen – and has happened – in other Western capitals.

In our lifetime the nature of warfare has developed from set pieces in the Middle East and other places to the point where the frontline is on our doorsteps.

The situation is so bad that the Jewish community in France feels threatened and many are leaving.

This could also apply in the United Kingdom, and as the Home Secretary Theresa May said the other day, who would have believed that Jews in Britain would no longer feel safe?

All of this makes Tuesday’s commemoration of Holocaust Day not just of historical significance, but an urgent reminder of what can happen when people treat others as less than human beings.

During my visits to Rwanda in the past few years with Tearfund, I was reminded directly just how dislike of one community for another can develop into hatred, dismissal and, ultimately, murder.

Prior to the Rwanda genocide, some of the spokesmen for the majority Hutus consistently referred to the Tutsis as “cockroaches” who had to be exterminated, and the rest is history.

However, I also encountered great nobility in Rwanda, and I talked to a Tutsi teacher called Michael Kayitaba.

He was hunted for many days by his former Hutu neighbours with dogs and rifles, but mercifully he managed to secure refuge in five different houses before he was rescued by French paratroopers.

He had every reason to hate the Hutus, but he told me something which I will never forget.

He said “The good people who gave me refuge and saved my life were Hutus, and therefore I cannot say that all Hutus are bad.”

In our society there is still a great lack of respect between many members of our two main communities. And on the eve of this Holocaust commemoration, if you substitute the labels Hutu and Tutsi for Protestant and Catholic, you will surely get my point.

Once you start going down “the other side” you are on a slippery slope, and our politicians, more than anyone else, could start by giving us a better example of respecting one another.

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