Ambassador Gasana, Mr. President of the General Assembly, Madame Deputy Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The United Nations was established in the shadow of a genocide. It suffered an enormous blow to its credibility and effectiveness in the face of another genocide, the one we are gathered to commemorate today.
Just over 18 years ago, on the evening of April 7, 1994, Major General Roméo Dallaire of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda hurried to the morgue of the Kigali Hospital. In a dark room, the beam of his flashlight revealed what was left of ten murdered Belgian peacekeepers, mutilated beyond recognition. In the same hospital, one hundred times that number of innocent Rwandans lay dead. And this was just the beginning.
We are drawn together today by a boundless grief for those who were murdered – by a deep compassion for them and their families – and by a shared determination to learn the lessons of failures past and put an end to genocide once and for all.
We pay homage both to those forever lost and to the brave survivors, who challenge us all even to comprehend their enduring sacrifices and extraordinary strength. Having experienced the worst, Rwanda’s people chose to bind up their wounds and forge ahead. Their determination, vision and success continue to astonish.
Last fall, I had the privilege to take my family to visit the genocide memorial in Kigali. They had heard me talk about my first trip to Rwanda, in December 1994, just six months after the genocide. They had listened to me describe walking through a churchyard and a schoolyard where one of the massacres had occurred. The decomposing bodies of those who had been so cruelly murdered months before still lay strewn around what should have been a place of peace.
With my husband, our son, who is 14, and our nine-year-old daughter, we paid our respects at the memorial tomb. It’s a great angled brown slab placed over a mass grave, with six large glass panes set together on the surface, almost like a skylight. I placed a wreath there, and we said a prayer. And then we went into the museum so they could learn about what had happened.
I believe that it’s important, as they get older, that we teach our children even these extremely painful things so that they will be able to take the memories, and the lessons, with them.
In the remainder of our visit, however, we saw a very different Rwanda. We travelled the length and the breadth of that beautiful country and we saw how incredibly far it has come. We saw the tremendous role that women now play in civic life. After the 2008 election, Rwanda became the only country in the world with a female parliamentary majority.
We met entrepreneurs of all sorts putting all their hopes and dreams into Rwanda’s future. We saw how farmers are moving from bare subsistence into a modern agriculture industry. Over the past decade, agriculture has grown at 5 percent or more per year.
We visited hospitals that were transforming Rwandan life, helping Rwanda’s people live longer, healthier and happier lives.
We shared the sorrow of Rwanda’s inconsolable loss, but we also shared a sense of wonder at what Rwandans have done to reclaim their country. Rwandans today are doing credit to all of the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, they have lost, by building the future that they should have been here to help build. This great achievement is also a kind of memorial, and a very fitting one that should motivate and inspire us all.