“Never Again” declared a ribbon that wrapped around a bouquet of flowers atop the mass grave at the Kigali Memorial Center in the capital city of Rwanda.
This was my first stop on a trip to Rwanda nearly three years ago. United to End Genocide had just been created to mobilize action to stop or prevent genocide and mass atrocities. As its President, I wanted to learn more how the unspeakable horror of the Rwanda genocide was allowed to happen. How it could have been stopped? Better yet, how could it have been prevented?
I was deeply shaken as I toured the museum that had been created to tell the story of the genocide. I had to sit down, not only because of to the enormity of the horror of what had occurred but because I had come face-to-face with my role in it! There was a display of the response from the international community to the steps to genocide. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof.
“My God”, I thought, “I was a Member of Congress when all of this was going on. I was on the Armed Services Committee and served as a member of the majority whip team whose job it was to “whip” up support from my colleagues to pressing issues and votes. Where the hell was I?”
The weight of this reflection continued as I came upon a wall of photos of victims, including many young children. Some were the age of my young son. Tears welled as I read of how they perished. How life went on here in Washington as usual while the march to mass murder systematically unfolded; how this could have been prevented; how these young lives could have been spared.
Almost three years later, the battle of prevention has been lost in places like Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria, where recent and ongoing atrocities have raised the same questions.
As the world marks that twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, it is diverting its eyes yet again as men, women and children suffer and die not because of anything that they have done but because of who they are – their ethnicity and the god that they pray to.
The world is marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide with events, statements and speeches. President Obama released a statement today and there will no doubt be words marking this dark anniversary uttered on the floor of the U.S. House and Senate.
But, I have a better idea. Let’s act.
There are thousands of lives on the line right now – lives that are being extinguished because of bigotry, prejudice, hatred and cruelty. Lives that are being lost with the full awareness – and complicity – of government officials.
I just returned from Burma after a month-long fact-finding trip. Nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today. Visiting camps in Burma where many thousands of Rohingya Muslims had been forced to live in, I was told repeatedly that their only hope was that the international community – particularly the United States – will do something to save them.
There are specific things that the U.S. government can do and what we all should do. You can begin by calling your Member of Congress and ask that they support HR 418 a Resolution urging the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people.
Bobby Kennedy once told a group of young people from Soweto, South Africa:
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Let us mark the anniversary of the Rwanda genocide by heeding the words of Bobby Kennedy. But let’s not just make ripples to save the lives of innocent people under siege, let’s make waves!