Header image for news printout

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay for the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda

Geneva, 7 April 2010

Ambassador Sebudandi,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we remember those 100 days of genocidal fury that, from April 7 to mid-July 1994, killed hundreds of thousands of Rwandans.  This annual commemorative event gives us an opportunity not only to mourn the victims and celebrate the courage of the survivors, but also to cast our gaze ahead and into the future that all Rwandans are striving to build.

It is also a time to acknowledge that the threat of genocide remains with us, that prejudice, discrimination, and hatred survive, and that at their most extreme they can unleash planned and organized mass murder--genocide.

I served as a judge and then President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  The stories of people who lived through that time of slaughter are forever with me.  When I remember the harrowing testimony presented to the Tribunal, I am reminded as well of the extraordinary acts of individual bravery during the mayhem and afterwards, and of the courage and resilience of those who survived.

The people of Rwanda have managed to emerge from those terrible times.  They have not rejected their history but have gone on instead to chart a future with sufficient safeguards to ensure that there is no repeat of that terrible event.

I am proud to note that OHCHR has been able to assist with some of these developments.  Indeed, the first High Commissioner took office as the genocidal conflict in Rwanda was raging in 1994.  Within days from the High Commissioner taking up functions and with limited operational experience, OHCHR was tasked with establishing its first presence on the ground as a deterrent for further violence in Rwanda.  Human rights officers on the ground developed a modus operandi for investigations of the massacres. The OHCHR Field Operation in Rwanda undertook a meticulous collection of evidence related to past human rights crimes.  In the end, OHCHR was able to provide a very extensive report to the newly appointed prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

There are many more obstacles to be confronted, but we must also take stock and commend the efforts of the Rwandan people to shape anew a society that is inclusive and which explicitly rejects the historical discrimination that led to the killings.

The 2003 Constitution guarantees the rights of all Rwandans without discrimination.  The Constitution recognizes the separation of powers and the precedence over domestic laws of international human rights conventions which have been ratified.

Crucially, Rwanda has made remarkable progress towards gender equality. In 2003, after the first national elections following the genocide, 48.8 percent of the country’s Members of Parliament were women, making the country the leader of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s ranking of women in parliament.  Again, after elections in 2008, women candidates did extraordinarily well.  Today, more than half of Rwanda’s parliamentarians and more than 30 percent of the Cabinet members are women.  Similarly, 30 percent of Judges of the Supreme Court are women and more than 30 percent of women occupy positions in other Courts and Tribunals. 

This remarkable progress is not only limited to the elite of the country.  Rwanda based its National Gender policy on both human rights principles and economic development.  The Government requires its key ministries to include in their budget requests specific allocations for the reduction of gender gaps.  Additionally, a number of institutional mechanisms have been established to overcome gender-based violence and to support victims. The recently established Gender Monitoring Office, an independent public institution, is dedicated to promoting non-discrimination and equal opportunity, and to identifying areas where gender equality and women’s participation needs to be strengthened.

Time and again in my advocacy against the death penalty, I underscore the fact that Rwanda, a country that has paid the ultimate cost of fear, found the courage and the consensus to abolish capital punishment in 2007.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Reaching milestones of this kind was unthinkable 16 years ago. The people of Rwanda emerged from a nightmare and chose a path of recovery and reconciliation that offers hope to future generations.

In 16 years great progress has been made, but difficult challenges requiring courage and imagination lie ahead.  The formal proceedings directed at suspected perpetrators of the genocide are concluding. The Security Council has given the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda until the end of this year to conclude trials of suspects. The National Gacaca Courts which dealt with a million and a half cases have already closed.  But the quest for justice for the victims of the genocide will continue for many years to come. 

None of us will ever forget the horrors that happened in 1994.  Nor should we forget that the people of Rwanda have shown that remembrance is not about vengeance, but about justice and empowerment. 

Thank you.