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Speech at the 25th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

Statssekretær Marianne Hagens innlegg på et minnearrangement for folkemordet i Rwanda.

Thank you for arranging this important event.

I am humbled to speak before you as we mark the 25th commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. On this occasion, I would like to express our solidarity with the people of Rwanda. We are determined to work to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

It is still incredibly difficult to understand that more than 800.000 people were systematically murdered. The death of a loved one is a heavy burden to carry. The burden carried by the Rwandan people after the murder of so many of its fellow citizens – children, mothers, fathers, family, friends and neighbours – is unimaginable.

Today we remember all those who perished.
 
We also honour those who survived. We recognize their pain and courage, and the struggles they still face today, 25 years later.

Some would say that 25 years is a long time. It is. But some memories never fade away. Those who survived the genocide will never forget what happened, and neither should we. However difficult, we need to remember. Kwibuka.

The need to remember and learn from the lessons of history is maybe even more important now than before.

The world is becoming increasingly more connected, and our challenges are increasingly more global. We grow more and more dependent on each other, as a community across nations. At the same time, we experience a negative trend in many parts of the world. We observe a rise in nationalism, isolationism, terrorism and hostility towards the so-called “other”.

This is frightening and provoking. We are committed to speak out and act against these trends. We are persistently working towards increasing tolerance and solidarity. And we need to secure that we together, as an international community, collectively address the main challenges of our time. We are therefore advocating a strengthening of important international and multilateral institutions like the United Nations. The collective failure of the international community to act against the genocidaires in Rwanda is a scar on the face of humanity.
 
Genocide and other forms of atrocious violence never occur in a vacuum. Nor are they committed by only a handful of individuals. They are planned and systematically carried out – often in plain sight - with the support and acceptance of many actors.
 
The origins of such atrocities lie in the willingness of leaders and people to demonize and dehumanize individuals and communities because of differences. Differences that should be embraced as they enrich countries and communities - like differences in ethnicity, religion, skin colour and sexual orientation - are instead abused as reasons to commit the most unthinkable atrocities against others.

The best way to honour the memory of those who were murdered in 1994 is to ensure that such events never occur again. Through our many activities in the UN and through our peace efforts within mediation and peaceful settlements of disputes, we strive towards this goal. A goal that means that we, as an international community, must be able to detect warning signs of genocide, and act proactively to prevent it from happening.

The poisonous intolerance, populism and nationalism we see around the world, even in established democracies, are the breeding ground of evil acts. During only the last few months, our friends in Sri Lanka, Mali and New Zealand have experienced horrible acts of terrorism. Acts that leave deep wounds in an entire nation. Wounds that also Norway still live with, after the devastating terrorist attacks 22 July 2011. 

We know that preventing the expression of hateful ideologies is not always an easy matter. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right.

Democracy must give room for diverging views, and create a culture of tolerance. Striking the balance between lawful and unlawful expressions is sometimes difficult.

Nations are obliged to take action against the promotion of hatred and intolerance towards individuals or groups. But we must also prevent alienation of the so-called “other” from spreading, gradually pushing our red lines.

We cannot tolerate the intolerable. And I am proud of the high priority the Norwegian Government gives to action against racism, discrimination and hate crime in our society.

Freedom of information, expression and assembly is not a part of the problem. It is a part of the solution for preventing ideologies of hate. Prejudice is often based on ignorance and fear of the unknown. Our task is therefore to inform about, demystify and show the unknown. Then people will understand that it is nothing to be afraid of.

We must all learn from Rwanda and its people. Your ability to move forward and emerge from a period of such shocking cruelty with a strong spirit of reconciliation, is a powerful example of how a nation can rise after its darkest moments.

As you know, the median age in Rwanda is 20 years. And almost 60 percent of the population were born after the genocide. They represent Rwanda’s future. They know what happened, they have heard horrific stories and they have been taught not to forget. However, they have only experienced a peaceful Rwanda, a Rwanda that knows its past and continuously strive for a better future.

Today, 25 years after the genocide, Rwanda has achieved a remarkable degree of stability. Rwanda has also experienced a significant strengthening of both its economy and the living standards of its people. It is a success story, and a story that we must continue to tell. The story of forgiving, but not forgetting.

I would like to end by quoting President Paul Kagame: “In the end, the only conclusion to draw from Rwanda’s story is profound hope for our world. No community is beyond repair, and the dignity of a people is never fully extinguished.”

Thank you for your attention.  

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