Rev. Harrison on the Importance of Remembering Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda

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At St Mary’s Church in High Pavement a service was held to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda. Reverend Chris Harrison, who led the service, said he has been moved by the desire for forgiveness in Rwanda.

TWENTY years ago this month, the world stood by in horror as one of the last century’s most appalling acts of mass brutality unfolded.

A veritable tidal wave of slaughter soaked the tiny African country of Rwanda in a sea of blood. Within a few weeks, up to a million Tutsis – almost three quarters of the entire Tutsi population of the country – had lost their lives, mostly murdered with machetes and knives.

Rape was commonly used to terrorise women. Moderate Hutus, and many others who refused to join in the killing, often paid the price for their self-restraint with their lives.

The frenzy of blood-letting during those few months in 1994 left one in five members of the entire population of Rwanda dead. The speed of the killing, in terms of the sheer numbers of the dead, far exceeded even the death rate of the German Holocaust in which millions of Jews had lost their lives 50 years earlier.

Some of the factors which led to the Rwandan genocide were in fact similar to those which enabled the Holocaust to happen. Fear and distrust of Tutsis had been whipped up by the Hutu-led government, which had increasingly imposed its authority on the nation.

What was different, however, was the scale on which ordinary people – who had lived side by side as neighbours for many years – suddenly became mortal enemies. Following government orders, thousands of Hutus turned upon their erstwhile Tutsi friends and joined in the massacres.

There is a small but significant Rwandan community in Nottingham, including survivors of the genocide.

They, along with other Rwandans around the UK, are determined that the world should not forget the deaths of so many of their fellow Rwandans twenty years ago. They want the deeply painful lessons of the past to remain part of our present consciousness, hoping and praying that nothing remotely similar will ever happen again.

This is why the theme of this anniversary year is ‘Kwibuka20 – remember, unite, renew’.

A few weeks ago, a Torch of Remembrance, named ‘Urumuri Rutazima’ – which symbolises the spirit of resilience against all odds – passed through Nottingham. Today, a day of commemoration will also be held here, attended by the Rwandan High Commissioner, beginning with a service in St Mary’s Church in High Pavement at 11am, to which all are welcome.

I have been deeply moved, in conversations with Rwandan friends here in Nottingham, by their clear desire that the theme of forgiveness should be a key part of the commemoration of the genocide.

This year, we are marking another significant anniversary: the beginning of the First World War in 1914. Let’s not forget, however, that when it ended, any attempt at reconciliation was never remotely on the agenda – with fateful consequences when another world war erupted two decades later.

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