"The memory of those killed is still fresh in our minds," said Rwandan President Paul Kagame. "Every single day in the last ten years has been a battle for our soul."
A weeklong period of mourning is taking place in Rwanda to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in which an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were brutally killed by elements among the majority Hutus during a three-month period. In Rwanda's capital, Kigali, at the just completed National Memorial Center, a banner at the entrance declares "Never Again," repeating the simple refrain used by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.
Pierre-Richard Prosper, the State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, headed the U.S. delegation to the formal ceremonies in Kigali marking the occasion. Former President Bill Clinton, whose administration was reluctant to use the word "genocide" to describe the daily killings as news of the murderous rampage was reported, did not attend the ceremonies in Rwanda. During a visit there in 1998, however, he conceded, "The international community must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy."
The State Department, in a written statement this week, called the 1994 Rwanda Genocide "one of the most horrific slaughters of innocent civilians of the century," saying the commemoration puts the focus on "one of the most difficult chapters in recent history."
Which brings us to the current situation in Sudan, another African country where ethnic fighting in the western province of Darfur has produced more civilian deaths and caused the international community to intervene.
A senior State Department official, asking not to be named, earlier this week refused to use the word "genocide" concerning events in Sudan, but he said, "Everybody is very much aware that failure to speak out and remaining silent can only exacerbate humanitarian situations."
Conceding that the Bush administration was well aware of what happened in Rwanda a decade ago, the senior official went on to explain, "That is why we have, I think, been fairly consistent and outspoken in drawing attention to what's going on in Darfur, in condemning it, but also, and more importantly, in taking action … to put pressure on those who we believe are responsible and … in marshalling international diplomatic efforts on behalf of this."
Today, the State Department issued a statement welcoming the humanitarian ceasefire reached yesterday concerning Darfur. "This agreement is a crucial, first step toward ending the atrocities and reversing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur," said deputy spokesman Adam Ereli.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also took this week's commemoration of the Rwanda Genocide to make the link to the current fighting in Darfur, which has caused an estimated 100,000 refugees to flee westward into neighboring Chad. Ten years ago, Annan was head of U.N. peacekeeping forces, which lost ten Belgium soldiers during the mass killings. This week in Geneva, at ceremonies to commemorate the genocide, Annan, noting the reports given by refugees of murder and rape in Darfur, said, "Whatever term it uses to describe the situation, the international community cannot stand idle."
Back at the ceremonies in Kigali, President Kagame lit an eternal flame and Belgium's foreign minister, Louis Michel, said, "It will take eternity for the detestable and guilty indifference of the international community to be forgotten."
The innocent civilians of Darfur, Sudan can only hope the international community makes good on its stated intentions and conducts itself with more humanity and honor than it did ten years ago in Rwanda.