I beg to move,
That this House commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when over the course of a 100-day period in 1994 at least 800,000 Rwandans were murdered; and calls on the Government to reinforce its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and to working within the UN to promote international justice and to avoid mass atrocities which are still committed across the globe today.
I am delighted to have the opportunity, on my birthday, to open today’s debate marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a 100-day period in 1994. That appalling episode left almost 1 million dead, 3 million refugees, a region riddled with insecurity, and a country and a people struggling to comprehend the enormity of the horrors inflicted on them.
To all the Tutsis and moderate Hutus who died, 7 April 1994 marked the beginning of 100 days of hell—100 days of rape, torture, murder and unspeakable horrors. It was the beginning of 100 days that took nearly 1 million lives. For those who bore witness to Rwanda’s genocide, it was a time that humanity seemed to forget. The Rwandan genocide saw wives become widows and children become orphans. Roughly three quarters of the Tutsi population were eliminated, and Rwanda suffered greatly. Attackers burned down churches with hundreds or thousands of Tutsis inside and slaughtered their victims with machetes. Hundreds of mass graves were dug across the country to bury the victims of what was a long-planned killing spree.
As Linda Melvern, the journalist and author, said in one of the Committee Rooms of the House on 26 March to those of us commemorating the genocide:
“Here was the direst of all human situations. The crime of genocide—the intent to destroy a human group…There were no sealed trains or secluded camps in Rwanda. A planned and political campaign, the genocide of the Tutsi took place in broad daylight.”
On the 20th anniversary of the genocide, people are talking again of tribes in Rwanda—the Hutu tribe, the Tutsi tribe—but it is important to remember that the Hutus and Tutsis were the same before colonial rule created a divide. They lived in the same space on the same hills, spoke the same language, had the same religion and often intermarried. The only difference was a superficial judgment on appearance and occupation. In 1994, Rwanda was 85% Hutu, 14% Tutsi and 1% Twa.
As many Members will know, the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide came about on 6 April 1994, when President Juvénal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down as it came in to land at Kigali airport. Immediately, a pre-planned policy of extermination of all Tutsis was triggered, and throughout the entire country, right down to every village, Hutus turned on their Tutsi neighbours and slaughtered them. The Hutus who attempted to intervene or prevent the violence were also killed.
The international community should have responded to the Rwandan genocide, but in 1994 it collectively failed to do anything to help the Rwandan people in their hour of need. The Americans had been traumatised by the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia the previous October, making the Clinton Administration unwilling to intervene, especially in Africa. Regrettably, Britain did nothing, having no interest in a former Belgian colony. France, much to its shame, continued to support the interim Rwandan Government even after it became clear that they were driving the planned genocide.
The international response to the Rwandan genocide was woeful, as was the lack of action by the United Nations. There were dreadful misreadings of what was happening, and the plight of the Tutsis was ignored, with many people refusing to acknowledge that the events taking place were a genocide of the Tutsis. Indeed, not one Government called on the perpetrators to stop the genocide. Not one UN member state severed diplomatic ties. Not one Government called for the representative of the interim Rwandan Government to be suspended from the chamber of the UN. The international community turned its back on Rwanda and left the Tutsi people to their fate.
One real problem at the time was the fact that the UN international assistance mission for Rwanda was there under a chapter VI mandate from the Security Council—peacekeeping rather than peace enforcement—and had really rotten rules of engagement. No one in the Security Council was prepared to increase the potency of those peacekeepers on the ground. More than that, as my hon. Friend knows, the Belgians withdrew their paratroopers and left the general there absolutely alone, with 246 people.
My hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right. Anybody who has seen the film “Shooting Dogs” will know the frustrations that the general felt at the lack of support and the lack of acknowledgment that a genocide was taking place. The title “Shooting Dogs” was because the peacekeepers could shoot dogs, since they might eat dead bodies or attack people, but could not shoot individuals who were slaughtering the Tutsis right in front of them.
It is easy for us to say, “It must never happen again”, but it may happen at any moment, and perhaps already is in Syria, the Central African Republic and north-eastern Nigeria—places where the wrong ID card or recognition of one’s tribe can still carry a death sentence. I wish to take this opportunity to reflect on not only the lessons and legacies of the genocide itself but the steps taken by the international community to ensure that it never happens again and by Rwanda in its transition to a peaceful and more prosperous future.
The horrific events that transpired during the Rwandan genocide, and later in Srebrenica, served as the impetus for all UN member states to commit unanimously at the 2005 world summit to the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. At the world summit, states acknowledged that the world should no longer tolerate political indifference and inaction, whenever and wherever populations face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes. By committing to the responsibility to protect, known as R2P, countries committed to protecting populations at risk of crimes such as the one experienced in Rwanda in 1994.
Since 2005, UN member states have taken important steps to strengthen the responsibility to protect at both international and domestic level. Those initiatives include the creation of a global network of focal points and the development of domestic and regional capacities to prevent genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. Since 2011, the UN Security Council has also invoked R2P when authorising measures to protect civilians in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya, South Sudan and elsewhere, although I believe that today we are once again falling short of our responsibility to protect in Syria. Preventing mass atrocity crimes is a responsibility that we must all bear and a principle for which we should all work. States should continue to build support for R2P and ensure that it is consistently and effectively implemented in practice.
The UK has also taken steps to reduce international war crimes and protect civilians. The Foreign Secretary’s work in calling for an end to rape as a weapon of war is highly necessary and important. In June he will ask 140 nations to write action against sexual violence into military training and doctrine. If that vital piece of work had been in place 20 years ago, perhaps many women and girls would have been saved from this cruel weapon of war. We need to continue to work to ensure that the horrific events in Rwanda do not unfold elsewhere in the future.
Dr Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, noted that the best way to honour the memory of those murdered in 1994 is to build a world where the international community permits no people to stand alone when threatened by genocide. The 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide compels us to reflect, but also to act and uphold our collective responsibility to protect.
I believe that the UK will continue to fight to ensure that the events of 7 April to 17 July 1994 do not recur, and I was pleased that the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), took time to attend commemorations in Kigali to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide. It is important that we remember the terrible events of 1994 and as a nation pay tribute to the victims.
Over the past 20 years, Rwanda’s development has been truly astonishing, and the UK has played a leading role in helping to transform it from a failed war-torn state into a stable and growing economy. In particular, the UK has done much to help the country’s poorest people lift themselves out of poverty over the past two decades. Britain is helping thousands of children across Rwanda to get an education, giving them the chance of a better future. We are helping more than half a million people to get a job so that they can lift themselves out of poverty. We are also helping thousands of families to ensure that they have enough food to eat to lead healthier, happier lives.
The UK is supporting a programme in Rwanda to help build peace and reconciliation following the genocide. We are helping to teach schoolchildren how they can become ambassadors for peace in their country, and funding vital research into how we can prevent genocide from happening again. To commemorate the genocide, the Department for International Development provided £2.5 million to support the Aegis Trust’s work in upgrading the Kigali genocide memorial and helping communities to reconcile their differences. Over the next three years, Britain’s support will help to establish a genocide archive and fund new research on how to prevent future genocide, and ensure that the event of the genocide is stored and made more accessible, including with online documentation from the Gacaca courts. Finally, Aegis will undertake research on preventing genocide, and will provide education about it and its causes to Rwandan schoolchildren, communities and youth leaders.
Since I first visited Rwanda in 2007, I have seen an enormous amount of progress. The overriding feeling that I get every time I visit the country is of a people wanting to move onwards and upwards to a better future. Indeed, I am making my own small contribution to Rwanda by setting up my own charity, A Partner in Education, and building a primary school in Kigali called Umubano, which means togetherness in Kinyarwandan. The school was built two years ago and currently educates 175 children, including many vulnerable children from poor backgrounds. Rwanda has few natural resources, and therefore its future lies in its children. Through my school, I am delighted to make my own small contribution to Rwanda’s future.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, we owe it not only to the victims of the 1994 genocide, but to all victims of genocide to remain vigilant, proactive, and to remember the sacrifice that they never deserved to make. To mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda we should say: never again.
I conclude by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for taking me to Rwanda in 2007 on project Umubano—a Conservative party initiative that has worked on a variety of social action projects over the past seven years. That early introduction to Rwanda has led to a love of the country and its people, and a lifetime commitment to support its future development.
I thank my team, both past and present, at A Partner in Education, for all they have done and continue to do, including Kitty Llewellyn, Alvin Mihigo, Pippa Richards—who shares a birthday with me today—Stephen Bayley, Kate Hanon, Emily Gilkinson and Angie Kotler. I also thank SURF, the survivors charity, and the Aegis Trust, for their work in ensuring that future generations learn the lessons of the terrible event of 1994. I thank my constituent, Hayley Boatwright, for her input into this speech, and finally I thank Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, for her friendship and support for my endeavours to give Rwanda a better future.
Last summer I visited Rwanda, and I was fortunate enough to go back in March and April this year. To be frank, I was unsure of what I would see. The country obviously has a terrible past, and it sits in the heart of Africa with no natural resources. The visit was to look at peace and reconciliation, and to see the commemorations of the 20th anniversary and the transformation that has taken place. During my visit I was fortunate enough to meet the President and executive members of the Administration, regional governors, members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, chief executives of state-owned industries, civil society, the archbishop and bishops of all the districts, ordinary people, non-governmental organisations and our own Foreign Office personnel—a wide range of people. It was informative to speak to all those people and get a grasp of the country. That is what brings me to this debate.
It is clear that the United Kingdom and Rwanda have a special relationship. When speaking to all those people, they would say that the role of the BBC in exposing the genocide, when no help was on offer, is something for which they remember Britain. They also point to the very generous budget support from UK aid that has allowed the Rwandan Government and Rwandan people to rebuild their country. I think that that sets the UK apart from other countries in the eyes of Rwanda.
I do not wish to go over the history, but I will reflect on what I saw: the impact of the genocide, the passage from the genocide to the present, the importance of Rwanda politically and economically in Africa, and the dilemma of balancing civil and human rights with development.
The development of Rwanda has been remarkable. On landing, visitors are struck by the sight of clean streets, beautiful lush greenery and manicured gardens. There is not a broken street light in sight. Visitors have to remind themselves that this is Africa. There is impressive infrastructure, with no broken pavements or potholes in sight. Well-dressed Rwandans go about their affairs with apparent purpose. There is European-standard housing in Kigali and modern housing throughout the country. Electricity and roads have been rolled out. The level of development is impressive.
This is obviously a very serious subject and the matters to which the hon. Gentleman is alluding are very interesting. Rwanda is a mountainous country, but the mobile phone signals there are better than they are in the highlands of Scotland.
I visit Scotland, but I am not an expert on the highlands. There was some trouble with mobile signals in Rwanda—it is hilly—but I was delighted to hear that the Rwandan Government, alongside the Korean Government, are looking to resolve that with huge investment in broadband and mobile infrastructure.
The past seems to have been erased from the physical fabric of the country. We are not left with the impression that such an horrific genocide has taken place. It is remarkable to see this type of development in Africa, but there is a dilemma when one considers some of the question marks hanging over Rwanda with regard to human rights and civil liberties.
One perhaps first realises the scale of the genocide when visiting the museum and learning of the brutal killings and the horrific torture of women and children. The British NGO, the Aegis Trust, has built a fantastic memorial. My colleagues were brought to tears by some of the graphic displays of the genocide. It is a mass grave, with 250,000 people buried there. I am led to believe that it is the largest mass grave in the world. The museum displays thousands of photos of the dead, pinned by pegs to rows and rows of horizontal string. The children’s memorial upstairs lays bare the cruelty exacted on babies and toddlers, who were swung by the legs to crush their skulls, shot, burnt alive and hacked to bits by machetes in front of their parents. It becomes quickly apparent to the visitor that Hutu Power was not just about extermination, but torture and revenge. It targeted children, and that is one aspect of the genocide that is very hard to take in.
Visitors also get that feeling at some of the other sites, and I think it is only the sites that carry the history. Rwanda has changed, but the decision to protect some of the sites was wise. We crossed the Nyabarongo river, where thousands were marched, brutally murdered and thrown into the river. The three churches at Nyamata, Ntarama and Gitarama are shocking: they show the full horror of genocide. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and I were taken aback by what we saw at Ntarama. It was a small church in which 5,000 people lost their lives. We were fortunate to meet a survivor, a young boy who was aged seven at the time. His story was that, while all the people around him were hacked to death in that small church, a rather large lady who was killed fell on him and he was buried alive at the bottom of the pile of people, which enabled him to survive. He was not identified by the militia; he is here today because of that piece of fortune. He saw his family murdered in the church. Worst of all, he, other family members and adults in that particular church had taken the decision that the toddlers and young children should be located in the nearby Sunday school, which they could see through the window. That is what the militia attacked first, murdering all the children in front of their parents’ eyes.
Outside the Ntarama church I also met a woman survivor. Her family was hacked to death in front her, and her arm and part of her head were hacked off. The Government provided a small pension for her. Without UK general budget support, one wonders whether the pension and subsistence she receives would have been made available to some of the survivors. I am proud of the fact that we as a nation support Rwanda through general budget aid, allowing the Rwandan Government to provide that sort of support to people who have to live with the consequences of what happened 20 years ago.
At Nyamata Parish Catholic church, there were 45,000 victims, with 10,000 of them massacred inside the church building. In the catacombs outside, cracked skulls and bones can be seen. Seeing the small skulls is what really gets to you because these were the skulls of small children. That was very hard to take, and one or two people on the visit could not go in for that reason.
I met a young woman guide there: she is 32 now, but was only 12 when her family were murdered in front of her. She managed to escape with her eight-year-old and four-year-old sisters and lived in the marshes for 45 days. I was told that there are crocodiles in the marshes, so it was not just about surviving the militia who came looking for them every day. She had to survive in the harsh conditions of the marshes, with the crocodiles, while having nothing to eat and trying to care for an eight-year-old and a four-year-old. Heroic people like that provide inspiration, but we need to reflect on the fact that she has been left with just two young siblings in a broken country. Of course, many did not survive in the swamps; they were found by their pursuers.
We went to a third church at Giterama, at which, according to the Gacaca court judges, 64,000 people were murdered. It was an unsavoury affair, with the Catholic Church being involved in, and accused of, collecting individuals from the area to take shelter in the church, only for the militia and Government forces to turn up. Visiting that site is shocking. The bodies are just buried at the bottom of a hill in a great big pile. I understand that many were buried alive. There were only two survivors out of the 64,000; it took two days to kill them all.
These are the sort of stories that bring home the sheer scale of the murder that went on. Many of the Tutsis fled to that region when the massacres began in Kigali, and they lived in crowded conditions with little food or water, suffering from malaria and dysentery, with soldiers and militia passing by each day, picking out some to be killed. By the end of May before the Gitarama mass murder, there were 38,000 refugees living in that area. It was described as a death camp, with refugees helpless against the militia’s rape and killing. At the stadium in Kigali, 54,000 people lost their lives. These numbers are truly shocking. I was told that at the peak of the killing, the Hutu militia and the Government forces were killing more daily than the Nazis ever achieved in the holocaust, with an average of 10,000 Tutsis murdered a day.
As mentioned in the opening speech from the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), the response from the world was poor. As for the United States, President Clinton subsequently acknowledged his failure to act, calling it his worst failure, admitting “I blew it”. For the colonial powers of Belgium and France, the political consequences flow right through to today. The political recriminations over that inaction shape the political landscape, even as we speak. Belgium and particularly France stand accused of supporting the Hutu militia and ultimately the genocide. In 2010, President Sarkozy of France said that France in particular should accept that its response had been culpably weak. He said:
“What happened here is a defeat for humanity”.
“What happened here left an indelible stain. What happened here obliges the international community—including France—to reflect on the errors which prevented us from foreseeing, or stopping, this appalling crime.”
Only last month, however, at the 20th anniversary commemorations, President Kagame accused both France and Belgium of having a “direct role” in the genocide. The Belgian Foreign Minister said that he intended to travel to Kigali to pay homage to the victims and their families, but he said:
“We are not going to pay homage to the current Rwandan Government”.
That tension exists 20 years on and it affects current policy. The role of not only France but Francophile countries still casts a shadow over the politics of the great lakes region and beyond, and that history is a dark shadow.
I do not wish to offer my thoughts on that history or any deep analysis of the genocide, other than four of my own observations. First, as with Nazi Germany, many educated people were the instigators of genocide. Secondly, identity politics led directly to a rationale that inhumanity was a justified response. Thirdly, the media played a crucial role, whereby politics of identity were openly played out in an ever-increasing measure. People pick that up when they go to the museum in Kigali and see the cut-outs and the blow-ups of the newspaper clippings, fliers and posters that circulated at that time; they see just how that politics of identity were inflated so rapidly. That serves as a warning to us all that the language of hate may be moderated at first, but it is unadulterated in its finale. The language goes from, “These people cause problems” to what we got in Rwanda, which was “Those people are cockroaches and animals.” So, fourthly, we have to be careful about what we say in the United Kingdom, because when we visit Rwanda it is easy to see some of what happened there in the current discourse among British citizens now. The first steps that the German and Rwandan people accepted as legitimate concerns—on the path to genocide—are put to British people in debate right now by certain political parties, and we ought to be mindful of that.
Rwanda today is a peaceful country that has exceptionally low levels of crime, which makes it a stand-out for Africa and the third world. It is a proud country and totally unrecognisable from its recent past. It is interesting to compare it with Burundi, which I was fortunate enough to visit, as Burundi reminds us of Rwanda two decades ago—indeed, it even used to be one country. When someone crosses the border from Burundi to Rwanda they can see the difference, as there has been GDP growth in Rwanda of 7.4% on average in the past 10 years. Small things capture the eye: the police and armed forces are personally attentive, in smart uniforms, quiet and not oppressive; everything is organised; there is a lack of people hanging about hawking or just loitering; the pavements are perfect; the people are not in rags and instead are looking healthy and well-dressed; there are cats eyes in the roads and the street lighting works; and the roads are smooth and well made, with well constructed drainage channels at either side.
During my travels around Rwanda we met many people and travelled to many districts. No restrictions were placed on whom we met or spoke to. We were free to travel, but what was abundantly clear was an omnipresence of a philosophy from the central Government of national unity. It was clear that Executive power was concentrated in Kigali and in Kigali’s RPF Administration, but the opposition are allowed to speak with certain freedoms, within that concept of nationality. There was nothing oppressive about how we were treated on our visit and we were not followed around. I found MPs in the Rwandan Parliament to be informative and prepared to discuss difficult issues; there was nothing they were not prepared to consider. I did not consider it anything other than a free society, to a large extent. When we spoke to ordinary people, however, it was clear that they were cautious about offering a dissenting voice. They feared that that would be unpatriotic, that it would risk a return to the past, and that it would not represent the Government’s view of the future.
We also had an opportunity to discuss the presidential election, which will take place in 2017 and which is focusing many eyes on the future of Rwanda. I spoke privately to many MPs who believed that President Kagame wished to end his tenure in 2017—that he had no desire to carry on. However, the conundrum was that the general public wanted him to carry on, because they did not want instability. They had experienced so many good years of progress that change represented a risk, and they were not prepared to take that risk. It was clear to me—although I may have been wrong—that Kagame was under pressure to stay not for political reasons, but for reasons of stability. In the light of my visit and the people to whom I spoke, I do not necessarily accept the view that he is an autocratic dictator, or that there is an authoritarian regime and he wants to hang on to it. Indeed, I think that the opposite may be true.
Another thing that we noticed was how different local government was from national government. It is important to bear that in mind when we talk about freedom. There seems to be much more freedom at local level. People come together—the police, civic society, the Church, the military, religious organisations and others—to discuss openly the future of their areas. We sat in on some of their discussions, and it was interesting to hear some of what was said. I did not have the impression that any freedoms were impinged on, or that there was anything oppressive about the meetings. People were frank about wanting the best for their areas, expressing their collective view.
It was interesting to observe Umuganda, the mandatory community work days designed by the community itself. The Rwandan people both have to and want to contribute to the rebuilding of their community: they seem to be hugely committed both to the community and to the country as a whole. There was a suggestion that the authorities took a very dim view of those who did not participate in that mandatory community work, or participated reluctantly.
I was also interested by the social contracts whereby every household, street and neighbourhood must set its own targets for achievement each year and present them to local government, or, in the case of district councils and regions, present them to the national Government. The achievement might be acquiring an extra cow, adding an extension to a property, cleaning the roads, or rebuilding the gulleys in the roads. The Government are clearly slightly authoritarian—there are Government notices on buildings asking people to make the best of their ability, and to ensure that they finish the jobs that they have started—but I think that those are reasonable things to expect, and I would not suggest for a minute that Rwanda is a particularly authoritarian country at local level. Nevertheless, the social contracts return us to that big question about Rwanda, that big dilemma: do they represent the heavy hand of the state, or social progress? I think that those who visit the country are perpetually faced with that conundrum.
One democratic element of life in Rwanda is the fact that the appointment of regional governors is rotated to prevent corruption, and there are billboards throughout the country advertising corruption hotlines. It is pleasant to live in a place where one not only feels safe, but feels that the institutions of government are representing the people in a very honest way.
Before the hon. Gentleman responds, it might be helpful if I point out that there are five further speakers to come as well as the Front Benchers and the winding-up speech. I believe there was an instruction to keep the length of speeches to about 10 minutes, and the hon. Gentleman has gone way over that, but I am sure he is coming to the end of his remarks.
Travelling around the country, we see the reconciliation villages, the process of peace and reconciliation and the coming together. What we see is people openly admitting that they committed crimes, although one gets the impression that where they have committed 40 crimes, perhaps they will admit to four or two. We also get, rather bizarrely, reconciliation villages in which there is intermarriage between families, the members of one having murdered those from the other. It is remarkable that people in such circumstances now get on and can be so forgiving. To be absolutely honest, where people do not get on, they tend to accept that and move out of the area, but in general there is not any conflict. We do not see retribution; instead we see people openly admitting that they need to come together. I never thought I would ever in my life see people so forgiving as I saw in Rwanda.
The Government have been instrumental in all of this and it is important that the Government move Rwanda on. They have been very helpful to those who have been involved in these events. This has caused tensions, as it is necessary to let the perpetrators off and sometimes the victims feel frustrated about that. It is a managed process, but it has been managed very well.
The Rwandan Government have had to absorb some 3 million refugees returning to the country, which is a huge challenge during such a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. The Gacaca courts have been criticised by human rights and civil liberty groups, but it has been difficult to deal with so many criminals. This has been a remarkable process. I do not think anybody would say that it was an all-round success—there might have been individual injustices, although it is not a Faustian pact—but it has moved Rwanda on and I think we have to accept certain things as part of that process.
I will conclude now, Mr Deputy Speaker, to allow others to speak.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) on securing this important and timely debate and the Backbench Business Committee on granting it. It is an honour to speak after the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), who spoke so passionately and movingly. I am also not the first Member who wants to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), because it was through him that I had the opportunity—less recently than the hon. Gentleman—to visit the beautiful country that we are discussing, to meet the beautiful people who live there, and to learn a bit more about what is probably the most shaming inaction of the so-called advanced world in my lifetime.
When we were in Rwanda—there are other Members present who were on that trip—we repeatedly asked the survivors we met what we could do. They said consistently, “Remember us. Tell other people about us. Never forget, keep talking about genocide, keep reminding people that it can happen again.” I am speaking here today because before “never again” comes “never forget”. We are reminded of that by events happening now in the Central African Republic. Even while we were in Rwanda, at the genocide museum in Kigali the curator was talking about having to plan an extra space in the museum because of events in Darfur.
In that museum, one of a series of moving pen-portrait memorials reads:
“Name: Francine Murengezi Ingabire
Food: Eggs & chips
Best friend: Elder sister, Claudette
Death: Hacked by machete”.
While the genocide museum memorial in Kigali brought to life the personal, individual tragedy of the genocide, it was at the Murambi memorial that we were struck by the sheer scale and indiscriminate horror of what happened. We had been warned before going there of the harrowing nature of what we would see, but nothing could prepare us for what we saw at Murambi. Room upon room is filled with the remains of men, women, children and babies. They are preserved in lime having already reached various stages of decay. Some still have hair and some remnants of clothing. A few of the rooms are more like store rooms in which bundles of clothes are packaged up on shelves and human bones are stored and filed by length. The most powerful thing about that memorial is the simple repetitiveness of it. Room after room is filled with the remains of human beings just as they fell; all apparently the same, but of course not all the same, because each one is a Francine or a friend of Francine, with their own individual tragedy.
There are reminders in Rwanda of what happened and what could happen again. I remember checking into the convent in Butare. There was no street lighting in those days—I guess that things have moved on, as now there are broken street lights; before there were just no street lights outside Kigali. At one point, we caught a glimpse of the convent wall, encrusted with razor wire and broken glass, which served as a reminder of the protections that people still feel they may have to call on in future. At the time of the genocide, no church, school or convent was a place of sanctuary.
Despite those reminders, the most striking thing in Rwanda is how safe it feels and how nice everybody is. They are the most smiling people one could hope to meet. Indeed, even when we were in a room with prisoners dressed in their pink pyjama-like outfits to designate what they had done, we felt strangely safe. It strikes one as the one country in the world that is least likely to suffer genocide. Being there made me think about that phrase, “Man’s inhumanity to man” and what it really means; what mankind is capable of. The conditions that lead to genocide are something that I have discussed many times with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) who has studied these subjects a great deal.
There is a unique historical context in Rwanda, as there is in every place that suffers genocide, but there is also a striking degree of commonality, of spottable signs that come up again and again: the identity documents with group or ethnic membership on them; the creation of a narrative, a problem or a question to which elimination of the group is the solution; the extensive planning for that extermination; the drawing up of lists; the ramping up of hate through controlled media; the catalyst event—in this case, it was the shooting down of the presidential plane—that is implicitly understood by people to mean that this is where the killing begins; and then the speed of the deadly operation that starts with moderates on all sides and, among the targeted group, with elites and those who are best able to organise.
Although there are all those elements of commonality, there are three things about the Rwandan genocide that make it startlingly different. The first was the mass nature of it. We cannot say that this was down to a few crack SS officers. The Interahamwe was a mass organisation, which was able to kill, because of the availability of machetes, without having been specifically armed. The second was the speed of it; the concentration of it. Almost one tenth of the population was wiped out within 100 days. Of course events were even more concentrated in the first days of the genocide. Third and most startling is that we knew about it. We, the world, knew about it and we did nothing to stop it.
One good thing to come from those terrible events in 1994 is the evolution of international law to go beyond the rights of nation states and to recognise our common humanity and the rights of all people. It is a moment that is pregnant with possibility, and of course in the grand sweep of history, we are still in that same moment that is pregnant with possibility, but it is also very precarious. There are two key tensions. The first is that the responsibility to protect is of course a challenge to national sovereignty, and it is understandable that some countries have worries about how it might eventually be a beachhead to richer nations once again imposing their will on smaller ones under the guise of humanitarian concern. The second is that force is quite rightly intended to be the last resort and we should allow time for other avenues to be followed and for other developments, but in 1994 in Rwanda there was no time. The need to go through the process of having discussions at the UN and so on was the problem.
Libya has been the one success so far of the responsibility to protect. We should not, because there has been only one example, underestimate its importance, as it is still a noble and worthwhile achievement. Even in the case of Libya, however, the deployment of the responsibility to protect was not uncontroversial because of what happened after the initial phase. As key countries such as China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa had misgivings, just being right about the rightness of humanitarian action was not enough. As we develop the responsibility to protect, we must proceed with caution, starting with how UN peacekeeping and peace enforcing operations are defined, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). We must also consider the support we give to regional organisations in their work.
It is one thing for China, Russia and others to be opposed to or have serious misgivings about the responsibility to protect and its deployment in certain situations, but it is quite another for us to give mixed messages. I do not mean this as a party political point and I do not want it to be interpreted as that in any way, but we should not underestimate the impact of the United Kingdom or, indeed, the United States, France or others being unable to unite around either a motion—such as a motion tabled in this House—or an expression of will on a point such as Syria. I think that the Syria vote will end up being a turning point in more ways than we yet realise, but I hope that never again will this House of Commons have to be divided on such an important issue. I hope that whoever is in government and whoever is in opposition, we will always be able to show a united front on these critical issues of protection.
There are some things we can learn from what has happened in Rwanda post-genocide, both good and bad. It is worth remembering that far more good things than bad have happened in that country since, as the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) said, such as the focus on justice and truth, the use of the Gacaca courts, the revulsion against violence—it is quite remarkable that part way through this process Rwanda abolished the death penalty, when one might think that retribution would be far higher on people’s list of priorities—and the creation of a shared sense of nationhood under which there are no Hutus or Tutsis but only Rwandans. Economic growth has been exceptional and we have seen the development of a legal system, property rights and a private sector. All those things are important in tackling poverty and making barbarism less possible.
We should be proud of the UK’s role in such change, but we must be a critical friend and must hold the Government to account. More is needed, as the situation is far from perfect, even if considered apart from what has happened in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is fair to say that right after a genocide it would be totally unrealistic to expect the incoming regime to be indifferent to matters such as media ownership and how political parties might develop. We cannot expect a liberal democracy simply to be put in place and be fully functioning. However, this 20th anniversary is an appropriate time to put fresh pressure on our friends in Rwanda with regard to the development of civil society and a freer media and creating a space for political dissent, while being watchful against the development of political parties and movements based on racial and other divisive lines.
The most striking image of the genocide in 1994, in many ways, actually comes from a film, “Shooting Dogs”, which has already been mentioned. Today, the sports field at the école technique officielle is a place of calm—it is just a sports field—but the signs are still there if one looks. There are machete marks on the trees around the outside. What happened at that place is a microcosm of what happened in Rwanda, and what we must guard against happening ever again anywhere else. When the United Nations failed to agree action, and then when the first westerners were killed, the troops of the international force that the world had created to protect our universal values were told to drive away, leaving to their unthinkable fate the 5,000 or so men, women and children gathered at a place that they thought was to be a place of safety, even as the frustrated militia men in their hundreds gathered at the perimeter, lashing out with their machetes at the trees, venting their frustration at the mild inconvenience they had to go through of having to wait for the soldiers to leave before they could get down to their gruesome work.
The then leaders of nations who could have done something, and the United Nations itself, were chastened by what happened in that central African country in 1994, and by our collective world inaction. That led to that moment that I mentioned—the moment that is pregnant with possibility, through the responsibility to protect. That is a moment that we simply cannot afford to let pass.
I draw the House’s attention to my relevant entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I join other Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on granting it. It is absolutely right that the House takes the opportunity to commemorate the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and it is a pleasure to speak after three compelling and powerful speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The Kinyarwandan word kwibuka means remembrance, and we are part of Kwibuka20, the 20th anniversary of the genocide. A flame of remembrance has been carried around Rwanda, and a similar flame of remembrance was carried around this country. I was delighted to join the lord mayor of Liverpool and others in welcoming the flame to Liverpool town hall in March 2014. The hon. Member for Braintree spoke about the event at which the Rwandan Foreign Minister spoke—the global conversation, which was hosted here in Parliament in March. I was delighted to be part of that event, and then to have the privilege to go back to Rwanda last month to attend the commemoration at which, as has been said, we were represented by the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds).
Since last December I have chaired the all-party parliamentary group on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. That all-party group was set up in 2005, in the wake of the world summit to take forward the important principle of the responsibility to protect. I am delighted that in framing of the motion before us, the hon. Member for Braintree has not only remembered Rwanda but has made that express connection to the responsibility to protect. I will return to that at the end of my remarks.
I thank the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which funded my attendance of the Kigali international forum on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group. At that forum I made a proposal that we should have a global parliamentary network of parliamentarians in all continents who are determined to work together on a cross-party basis to prevent future genocides and other mass atrocities. At the moment, the only other Parliament that has an all-party group similar to ours is Canada. It was set up at the behest of Roméo Dallaire, who is now a Senator in the Canadian Parliament but was the UN commander on the ground in Kigali in 1994. I was delighted to have the opportunity to discuss the establishment of such a network with parliamentarians from Rwanda itself, from other east African Parliaments who attended the Kigali forum, from the German Parliament on a cross-party basis, and from Australia, and I will be working with colleagues, I am sure, on both sides of the House and in the other place on forging that global parliamentary network, which is an initiative of the Aegis Trust.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the important work of the Aegis Trust. I had the privilege to work with the trust for five years during my enforced exile from this place between 2005 and 2010. It was with the trust that I first went to Rwanda in 2005. The Aegis Trust is a remarkable organisation, set up originally by a family in the parliamentary constituency of Newark, by coincidence, whose first act was to establish the holocaust memorial in this country known as Beth Shalom. The Smith family are a Christian family who visited Yad Vashem in Israel, saw the holocaust memorial there and made the decision to establish a similar memorial in this country. They used their own home to provide that museum, which educates thousands of young people every year on the horrors of the Nazi holocaust and other genocides and mass atrocities.
After the family had run the holocaust memorial for some years, a number of people asked them, “What about what is happening now? What about other genocides that have happened since the holocaust?” They therefore decided to set up the Aegis Trust to remember what had happened in Rwanda, Cambodia and elsewhere, and crucially to work for the prevention of further genocides and mass atrocities. Both Stephen Smith and James Smith have rightly been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen in honours lists, most recently with James, the chief executive of the trust, being awarded the CBE.
When I was the British United Nations commander in Bosnia, one of the biggest obstacles to getting international action was the refusal to call what was happening genocide. Once an act is defined as genocide, the United Nations is compelled to do something about it. Does the responsibility to protect ensure that we can now get genocide quickly defined as such, to overcome that reluctance to act?
I hope so. That is my honest answer. I will come to the specifics of how we might move forward on the responsibility to protect. It would be terrible if we had another situation where an atrocity was emerging and, for definitional reasons, we were unable to take appropriate action to prevent it from happening.
While I was in Kigali last month, in addition to attending the national commemoration at the football stadium, we had the 10th anniversary commemoration of the Kigali genocide memorial, which all Members have mentioned. The commemoration event was incredibly powerful. During that day, the mufti of Rwanda, the leader of the Muslim community there, spoke, and he did so on behalf of the Muslim community and also the main Christian Churches in Rwanda. He spoke about a new cross-faith initiative to take up what is happening in the Central African Republic. One of the things that has come out of the Rwandan genocide is that the Government as well as the people of Rwanda are key voices in demanding international action in situations that they rightly fear could result in genocide or other mass atrocities.
Remembrance is vital, especially in this year. Commemoration and education are crucial, but as Members on both sides of the House have said, we need also to focus on prevention, and it is on that subject that I wish to finish my remarks. How can we make this responsibility to protect a concrete reality? I concur with the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). There are some real challenges in forging a consensus globally on this. We cannot underestimate the scale of those challenges, but it is vital that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of taking this forward.
Will the Minister say something about the current initiative from the French Government, who are proposing a code of conduct concerning the use of the veto power by the permanent members of the Security Council? The French Government propose that this should be adopted—this comes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—in cases of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The proposal is for a mutual commitment by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to suspend their right of veto in situations of mass atrocities.
We know that in 1994 there was a failure of collective action to prevent Rwandans from being killed simply because they were Tutsi or because they were Hutu people intervening on behalf of Tutsis.
On that important point, the French proposal is excellent but the weakness in it is what we see in Syria today, where the Russians have a vested interest in what is going on. It would be impossible to achieve a consensus, whereby all five suspended their veto, if vested interests were at stake.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which anticipates something that I am about to say. He is right to remind us of the scale of the challenge. The French proposal is an important step in the right direction and I encourage the British Government to take a positive approach to it, but clearly it is not sufficient if we cannot secure the political will of the other members. We are talking here primarily about Russia and China in the context of challenges that we face today.
When the responsibility to protect was adopted universally by the UN General Assembly, that marked an important moment in the collective recognition of our shared responsibility. However, we all know that it is one thing to adopt principles and another to act on them. The veto power has been used on a number of occasions, most recently in the context of Syria, when double vetoes by Russia and China have blocked actions that could have saved civilian lives. I urge the Minister to signal the UK’s support for the French initiative as a way of strengthening the resolve of the permanent members of the Security Council to prevent atrocities from happening and to respond to them more quickly when they do happen.
“Never again” was the slogan the world adopted after the Nazi holocaust. We have learnt a lot since then, but we have also seen what happened in Cambodia and Srebrenica, what is happening in Syria, in the Central African Republic and in Darfur and, of course, what happened in Rwanda. We still have a long way to go, but I hope that in this House, as this debate demonstrates, we can show that there is a real sense of shared concern, shared humanity and solidarity with those working in other parts of the world, often in far more challenging circumstances, to prevent genocide and to educate people about it.
I finish by thanking the hon. Member for Braintree once again for giving us the opportunity to air this very important set of issues.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) on securing this very important debate commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. I would also like to wish him a happy birthday. The fact that the Backbench Business Committee granted the debate shows that it sees this as a serious issue that should be discussed. It is a great pleasure to follow not only my hon. Friend, but other hon. Members who have spoken passionately, drawing on first-hand knowledge of visiting Rwanda. There is nothing better than visiting the country to see what the situation is like on the ground. I actually met my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) there before the election, with Project Umubano.
Members have congratulated my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on setting up Project Umubano for the Conservative party. It has been phenomenally successful, not just in what we have done—there has been some extremely good work—but in enabling people who might never have had the opportunity to visit that country to go and see it for themselves, particularly some of the young people who have worked there for two weeks during the summer. When they come back they understand what it is like and why we give money for international development. It is a very important initiative to have started.
Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking our right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for all his efforts and hard work in setting up that initiative, because he has introduced people like me and colleagues on the Government side of the House to the concept of international development and to the tragedy that happened in Rwanda? We have much to thank him for.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I also note that the Prime Minister endorsed it when in opposition, and Lord Ashcroft has been incredibly supportive of various initiatives out there, so many people have been involved. However, our debate is not about what the Conservative party has done, even though it has been fantastic for many people; it is about what has happened.
I have now been to Rwanda six times: four with Project Umubano, one with the International Development Committee and, most recently, in April, with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I have seen how the country has progressed over that period. It has changed from being quite a good African country to being an amazing African country, and the example it has set could provide many lessons for other African countries. There have been criticisms by the international press about the President of Rwanda, but we should consider where he has moved the country from and to in just 20 years. We might think that we have done quite well in moving on from the second world war, and that was 70 years ago. People have not forgotten what happened, but I believe that they are prepared to put it behind them and to move on. I have been astonished at the consensus that that has generated among people there.
To support what the hon. Lady is saying, when I was in Rwanda and taken to a reconciliation village, it was striking to see a former genocidier from the nominal Hutus join a Tutsi woman. He was involved in the genocide, but he now looks after her children when she goes to work and deals with her other commitments. She had lost more than three quarters of her family in the genocide. That experience is testament to the hon. Lady’s words.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) will remember that during our most recent visit we met people who had married across the Hutu-Tutsi divide and were making a go of it, difficult though it has been. They were not isolated examples; there were others. That shows the tremendous distance that the country and particularly individuals have moved.
Again, that shows the tremendous journey that people have taken. We can all look back to the past. My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire talked about going to Murambi and seeing the bodies. We have talked about seeing the memorials at the genocide memorial centre, and I defy anyone to come out of there without having been moved, but that is the past and it is fantastic that the country has moved on. We have heard stories about good roads and street lights that work, but there are many other examples of how the country has moved on. It still has a long way to go to be perfect, but it has moved on enormously.
One of the criticisms has been about the fact that there has not been press freedom. However, last time I went to Rwanda I was most impressed because it has decided to have freedom of the press—it is in legislation. The problem is that it does not know how to use that freedom and it needs to be trained. Even broadcasters from Parliament are allowed to choose what they broadcast, whereas when I visited three years ago they could not do that and had to produce the stuff that was being spoken about in Parliament, which is often deadly dull for most people. They are now going to do all sorts of other things. That is a huge freedom for the people of Rwanda.
It is understandable that there was no press freedom at the beginning. That is where much of the agitation came from during the genocide. The radio broadcasters incited violence and said, “Prepare to kill the cockroaches.” They encouraged people to do that, so it is understandable why any President taking over a country that has gone through 100 days of slaughter did not want press freedom. It will take a while to mature, but it is there and journalists are grateful for it.
There has been huge criticism of the President, but we must look at where he came from. He took over a broken country with massive problems. It is understandable that he has been authoritarian, but he is beginning to relax what is happening now and he is also very popular. The hon. Member for Hyndburn painted a graphic picture in everything he said about our visit, but we heard how popular the President is with the people, who will try to persuade him to stay for a third term. Whether he chooses to do so will be up to him, but I am certain that the pressure will be there. One of his problems is that there is no recognisable candidate to succeed him. People need to plan for the future so that there is a credible candidate to follow him. So far that has not happened.
Something that the Rwandan Parliament has got right, even though it is done by quotas, is its huge proportion of women—far better than ours and better than many other countries in the world. The Parliament has some very effective women and I am sure that that has changed the nature of debate, as indeed it does when more women are here in the Chamber.
The after-effects are beginning to go. After the genocide, there were very many orphan-headed households. Of course, by now those orphans must be more than 20 years old, so there are grown-up heads of households. They probably have multiple problems, including mental health issues, that need help, but at least there are no longer orphan-headed households where children are trying to bring up and look after their siblings. Many people adopted neighbours’ children because the parents had been slaughtered. Many people did an awful lot of things to help those who were in a very difficult situation.
People have mentioned a film called “Shooting Dogs”. Many people have seen “Hotel Rwanda”, which is very much a sanitised version—the Hollywood version—of what happened, and I understand that it is not terribly accurate. The two films that have affected me most are “Sometimes in April” and “Shooting Dogs”. I wish more people would watch them, because they would have a greater understanding of what happened.
Let me go back to progress in the country. During our last visit, we met the President, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. The President talked about the fact that, for the first time, the country is now self-sufficient in food. That means that people should be able to go on to export even more; they already export tea, coffee, bananas, and so on. I have even bought Rwandan coffee in Sainsbury’s, so these things are out there. This country should be encouraging them to become even more self-sufficient and to do even more towards exporting, because that will help their economy.
That process has been helped by the villagisation project. Rwanda is the most beautiful country one could possibly imagine. It is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. It is green and hilly. It is not very big—no bigger than Wales. Previously, there was no planning law, so people built all over the place, and there were no cohesive villages. People are now being moved into villages away from their homes. One could say that that is not a good idea, but in fact they are being given proper homes with electricity and sanitation, which leads to better health. It is in people’s interests to move into those homes, thus freeing up land for more agriculture. That is why people are now being successful. One can drive around to see the villagisation projects and how they are working. They are very well-structured places. Many of them even have fibre-optic cables so as to be able to access the internet.
The president has a long-term vision, and he is delivering on it. He is not at the end yet, but he is getting there. It is important for this country to recognise that. It would be jolly nice if we all had fibre-optic cables; in fact, it would be good if we all had the chance of broadband.
The hon. Lady makes another good point about the advancement of Rwanda. I was struck not just by the infrastructure but by the human capital that was deciding to return to the country. People who are highly trained in medicine and could be earning very high salaries in the United States of America have decided to forgo that opportunity, and with a sense of purpose and humanitarianism have gone back to their own country of Rwanda to help build a better society. That shows notable self-sacrifice.
I agree. It is important that people who have learnt skills in other countries can go back and help out.
We should look at the example that Rwanda is setting. When we went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo border, we saw fantastic roads, wonderful policing, and a place for people to go and get their visas. Across the barrier in the DRC, people are in rags with no proper transport and no proper roads; it is completely dysfunctional. Rwanda should be a shining example to other countries in Africa. Many countries could follow its example. I believe that one of the reasons why it is in such a situation is the lack of corruption. That is incredibly important and should be valued by other countries. “Never again” is the slogan, and, indeed, we must not let it happen again.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and, indeed, everyone who has already spoken. We have heard some excellent and moving speeches.
In April 1994, I and my family lived in Tanzania and our only real contact with the outside world was the BBC World Service. At this point, I pay tribute to the importance of the World Service for broadcasting by and large the best unbiased news around the world. We have already heard how important the service was to many Rwandans. Whenever we talk about the future of the World Service—whether in this Parliament or the next—let us never forget how much it is valued by hundreds of millions, even billions, of people around the world.
I was particularly interested in two things that were going on in April 1994. The first was the remarkable events in South Africa, where a really serious situation that could have resulted in severe civil unrest—possibly even a civil war—was turned around by national reconciliation and international mediation, which resulted in the wonderful election that brought President Nelson Mandela to power. There could have been chaos, but there was not.
At the same time, the opposite was happening in Rwanda, where the Arusha accords—which had given a glimmer of light not just to Rwanda, but to Burundi—were torn apart when the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi crashed on 6 April 1994. I remember that particularly well, because on that very evening someone was waiting at Kigali airport to receive a friend of ours who was going to work in Rwanda for a few weeks before coming to Tanzania. His plane had to be diverted and the man who was meant to meet him at the airport did not survive that night—he was caught up in the genocide.
Since then, as we have been reminded, Rwanda has made enormous progress. This is not just about the economic growth of up to 8% a year on average, but about education. It is investing in higher education and there is recognition, as has been said, that the future of Rwanda is in its human capital. It lacks natural resources other than its beauty and its agriculture. It does not have the minerals, but it does have the people, which is why the President and the Government are absolutely right to invest in higher education.
One example of the progress Rwanda has made is the way in which it is tackling malaria. The President and the Government have now said that they want to eliminate deaths as a result of malaria by 2018. I do not doubt that that is possible, such is the progress they have made with the distribution of bed nets, indoor residual spraying and the improvement of the health service. Other Members have referred to the lack of corruption, and Rwanda is indeed a model of a country that says that corruption is bad for development and for the ordinary people.
The UK has played a major role under both the previous and the current Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire and I had the pleasure of going on an international development trip, during which we saw an excellent programme for the establishment of a land registry and the granting of titles to every single plot—about 10 million of them—in Rwanda. That has already resulted in improvements in investment, productivity and agriculture, particularly smallholder agriculture, which is vital for employment and household incomes in Rwanda and elsewhere. Rwanda also has stability, which is vital and prized and probably the primary reason why President Kagame is so popular.
Instability, however, remains in the region. The people of Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo have felt the consequences of that instability at various times. Nowhere is that more true than in the DRC, which has seen millions of people die and hundreds of thousands, even millions, of women suffer the brutality of rape and sexual violence. There must be no let-up in the work to bring peace to that region. We cannot focus on Rwanda without focusing on the entire region. We must ensure that those who, for whatever reason, perpetrate this violence are defeated and brought to account.
If there is one lesson that I want the United Kingdom and the international community to learn above all—I hope that we do learn it—it is that when there is prevarication and delay in confronting evil, it consequences will only be worse. The example of the Rwandan genocide was one of prevarication and delay in confronting evil, a word which I do not use lightly. Evil was present in Rwanda at that time, as it has been in other places that have subsequently seen the kind of devastation experienced by Rwanda.
This is a time to remember not just those who perished and their families, but the survivors. I, too, have been very privileged to take part in Project Umubano, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). One organisation we work with in Rwanda is SURF, or the Survivors Fund UK. With tremendous support from the UK—from DFID and Comic Relief, and from individual donors—it is working with local organisations to support survivors, whether widows, young people or orphans, and umbrella organisations. Together, such organisations care for the needs of more than 300,000 survivors and their dependants, who are often some of the poorest. They obviously suffer from disability and unemployment, and they include widows and children who have had to bring up their siblings from a very young age. The work of all the organisations aims to foster self-reliance. I read about a lady called Francine, who said:
“Before I was alone, I never thought about the future of my life. After joining this group”—
a project supported by DFID in Rwanda—
“I can look forward because I share my life experience with others.”
That is so important. We should not forget the survivors, and I am sure that we will not do so.
Survivors have a need not just for food and employment, but for justice. For many of them, justice has still not come. There has been the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, which will close this year. It has cost $1 billion, which is an enormous amount of money. It has done important work, but it has no mandate for reparation, and the Rwandan survivors have received none. In many ways, the Gacaca courts have been much more effective and efficient than the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda—they have a mandate for restitution and have made many thousands of restitution grants, although many of them have not been fulfilled—but even they do not have a mandate for reparation. It is very important to the survivors—or, God forbid, to victims of any future mass killings—that the concept of reparation is implemented and not forgotten, because it is a vital part of justice.
I thank my hon. Friend for his amazing work in leading Project Umubano, and I commend his excellent Swahili, which I have heard at first hand. Does he agree that, following this terrible tragedy, what was most impressive was the ability of the Government to abolish the death penalty, rather than to use it to seek retribution?
I did not realise that that had happened until my second or third visit to Rwanda, and I was hugely struck by it. If we compare even the reaction of the allied powers after the second world war with what Rwanda has done, I think that it was a very gracious and humble but formidable act that speaks very powerfully and should be much better known.
What lessons can we learn? We have heard much about the responsibility to protect, which is absolutely vital, but I want to draw a few other conclusions. The first is about intelligence. General Dallaire, who has often been mentioned—I have read his excellent book—knew and passed on information at quite an early stage, and certainly several months before the genocide took place, about a potential catastrophe in the country, but it was ignored. We ignore intelligence at our peril in such matters. We may at the moment have intelligence from countries around the world about something serious that is brewing, and we must take note of it and act on it.
I am afraid that I do share that concern. I regret to say that, but I do not think that we have learned the lessons. There are serious situations around the world that we are almost turning a blind eye to. I remember hearing at first hand from friends of mine who had gone to work in the refugee camps on the Tanzanian border, when the refugees were flooding over at a rate of thousands or even tens of thousands a day, about the bodies from the genocide floating down the River Ngara. In spite of the evidence in front of our eyes, the world did not call it a genocide at that point and no action was taken.
That leads me to my second point. We can ignore intelligence, but if we ignore what is in front of our own eyes, what hope is there? We have to act much more quickly than we do.
Thirdly, we had the resources. Expatriates were evacuated by well-armed western forces before the very people with whom they worked were slaughtered a few hours or a day or two later. There was the ability to do something, but we simply did not do it. That must never, ever happen again. The first responsibility of our armed forces is to protect this nation, but our responsibility as part of the international community goes wider than that. We must not be afraid to commit our forces to such action to protect people around the world if it is necessary.
Such action is more necessary than ever because of the increase in extremism around the world, whether in religion, politics or nationalism, which leaves minorities everywhere at greater risk. That is true even in democracies, because a democracy is the rule of the majority, unless minorities have the protection of the law—domestic law, ideally, but international law if domestic law is failing.
As we remember what happened 20 years ago, let us not be complacent in any way. Wherever there is conflict or the potential for conflict, there must be no let-up in the efforts to bring peace. We saw the tremendous fruits of that in South Africa, where the international community was engaged, and the devastating consequences in Rwanda when it was not.
It is a privilege to follow so many powerful speeches from across the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) on securing this debate. I am glad that the House has the opportunity to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It was so shocking, there was so much suffering and there are so many lessons for the international community after the shameful inaction, when what was happening was known about.
I wanted to participate in this debate because I was fortunate enough to visit Rwanda last year as part of a volunteer programme, Project Umubano, which has been described in this debate. It was a fascinating, thoroughly sobering and enjoyable experience. I joined the programme to teach business skills, but I think that I learned far more than I taught.
The genocide killed between 800,000 and 1 million people. Tens of thousands more were displaced and up to a quarter of a million women were raped. I want to spend a few minutes talking about how communities and countries can be rebuilt after such events. We talk about the challenges facing communities in this country and we all work to build stronger communities in our constituencies, but my mind boggles at the challenges that the Rwandan Government faced.
The Rwanda Governance Board has established several programmes to help with community building, especially through dispute resolution. While in Rwanda, I was fortunate enough to participate in one of those programmes, Umuganda, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones). Umuganda means community service and it is a big deal in Rwanda. In practical terms, it takes place on the last Saturday of every month between 8 o’clock and 11 o’clock in the morning. It is compulsory: everybody aged between 18 and 65 has to participate. Businesses close and public transport is limited at that time. There are hundreds of projects across the country doing everything from cutting grass or cleaning an area to building a community facility.
The project I was involved in was building a storm drain. The whole of the volunteer group I was with, including colleagues from the House, participated. We carried dirt and stones and helped build the drain. We had a slightly surreal moment with a long human chain carrying the stones, which involved my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) passing rocks to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who passed them to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree, who passed them to me, and I passed them on. There must have been 200 or so people participating, working hard and with a great spirit. We met many local people, which was one of the highlights of my two weeks in Africa.
At the end of the session, the whole local community gathered to hear speeches from their local representatives and community leaders. I should mention that one of the speakers was my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, who delivered a speech in flawless Swahili. There was an audible gasp of appreciation from the community at his language skills. The speech went down very well and there was much laughter. I have no idea what he said, but it was clearly very good.
The point of Umuganda is not the community projects themselves, although communities clearly benefit from them, but that people come together in a collective enterprise. It is about building links and cohesion, about creating loyalty to each other and to the communities they live in. People have put sweat into building something and they have a stake in seeing it thrive. I was certainly impressed by what I saw.
While in Rwanda, our group visited the national genocide memorial in Kigali, where my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West laid a wreath on behalf of the group. The centre is built on a site where more than 250,000 are buried. It was sobering to see the records of what had happened, and hard to grasp the scale of the numbers and the brutality.
I also visited a second memorial, at Ntarama. Deep in the countryside, Ntarama is a village and people had gone to its church for refuge. However, there was no safety there. It was attacked and around 5,000 people were killed, mainly women and children. As well as the mass graves, the site has stacks of bones on shelves, stained clothing and some personal belongings of those who died. It is hard not to be struck by the contrast between the peaceful surroundings outside—the trees and the birdsong—and the horror within. I shall not talk about the detail of the things that we saw. I have visited some dark places—for example, holocaust sites across Europe—but this was a very dark place indeed.
The transformation in Rwanda over just 20 years is extraordinary. I am not saying that everything is rosy. It clearly is not. However, there is economic stability and reconstruction, and fantastic levels of economic growth. There are strong efforts at community building, and it was one of those that I wanted to share with the House today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree again on securing the debate. We sometimes think that genocides are part of the horror of the second world war and something that we have left behind. That is wrong. There are examples from Cambodia, Bosnia and, of course, Rwanda. It is right to remember, to learn and to note our responsibilities.
I did not think that there would be time for me to speak today, so I did not prepare anything, but I have been to Rwanda. I direct Members to my entry in the register. I also have a family connection there. My step-grandmother is Tutsi and had to flee Rwanda in an earlier wave of violence. Rwanda therefore means a lot to me and my family.
I share the positivity that has been expressed in the House today about the current situation in Rwanda and its future. It has indeed come on in leaps and bounds and that is partly due to the success of the unique truth commission and what has happened subsequently. The empowerment of women, which was mentioned in the debate, has also been pivotal in changing the political outlook. That did not happen by accident. Rwanda has also been helped by—I am sad to use the term—the “guilt money” that flowed in from all over the world when people saw what was happening playing out on their television screens and tried to fill the hole in everyone’s hearts. Money came in from around the world to try to repair some of the pain that had been caused.
Unfortunately, I do not feel that positivity about the situation in other places. As I said in an intervention, I worry that we have not learned all the lessons that we might have done from 1994. I greatly fear that this might happen again, and I urge colleagues of all parties and on both Front Benches to keep that in mind. I hope that I am wrong.
It has been a real pleasure to sit through the debate and listen to Members’ contributions. They have impressed upon me again the importance of Members travelling to and experiencing places such as Rwanda for themselves. This would have been a much poorer debate if we had simply been talking about a country that we had read about in books.
I have limited time, but I will refer to all the speeches that have been made. It has been such a high-quality and informative debate that it is important that I do so. First, I thank the birthday boy, the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who has brought us all here today and who recounted matters from his deep knowledge. I pay tribute to him for the work that he is doing with his charity and school. There are many great projects whereby schools in the UK and in Africa are learning much about each other, and such projects of interaction between young people—we have one in my constituency—are wonderful to see. I hope that in due course, they will lead to solutions to some of the intractable political issues that occur when conflict happens, which have been touched on in the debate. We need to be an outward-looking country in a world in which people travel more and more, and we always need to bear in mind our responsibilities across the globe. That has been an enduring theme of the debate.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Aegis Trust, and I want to ensure that I pay tribute to that organisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) obviously knows a great deal about it, as a former employee. When I visited the Kigali memorial, it was good to see the tremendous work that takes place there.
We heard the good Lancashire tones of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), who spoke in great detail about the importance of Rwanda and the progress that has been made there. He made interesting points about the balance that we need to strike between remembering Rwanda’s extraordinary, horrific past and considering the present that reflects it. When I visited Rwanda, I spoke to Ministers and other people who impressed upon me the importance of understanding how the horrific nature of what happened in 1994 is reflected in the present, and how the perception of Rwanda now is conditioned by what happened 20 years ago. That is an important point to remember whenever we talk about that unique country.
The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) made an excellent speech in which he talked about the importance of the responsibility to protect. His reflections on Rwanda were based on having visited it. I speak personally in saying that visiting Rwanda has a real impact on people, and I believe that all Members who have spoken would agree with that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby made an interesting speech in which he referred to the discussions on the United Nations veto. We need to examine our international institutions. Members have touched on difficult political issues in other places at the moment, and my impression as a shadow Foreign Affairs Minister is that consistency is one of the most important principles that we need to apply. Countries across the globe need to set aside their own interests for the collective good. That is a trite, short message to say, but it is very difficult to achieve. It means that individual countries will always have to stand back and sacrifice their own interests where serious issues press.
The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) stressed the importance of women in Rwandan politics, who are very evident, impressive and have a hugely positive impact on the enormous progress made. She also mentioned the lack of corruption, which I think is intrinsic and pivotal to the progress that Rwanda is making.
We heard so much about the Swahili spoken by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) that I must hear it, perhaps on another occasion, and I am sure I will be enormously impressed. He highlighted the threat of increasing extremism right across the globe that we are encountering—I know the Minister is also encountering that in the middle east in his current role. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) presented me with the wonderful picture of Conservative MPs handing rocks to each other—a very constructive process. Indeed, some would say that that is more constructive than some of the other things that they do, but perhaps this is not the occasion for cheap political jibes. My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) again referred to the important role of women in Rwanda, and made brief observations about the responsibility to protect, which is important.
This has been an excellent debate, but I am surprised that no one has mentioned that Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in November 2009. I am amazed that I am the first person to mention that point, and delighted. It is an indication of the tremendous progress that Rwanda has made, and of its commitment to a democratic future. It is also expressive of the growing bond between the United Kingdom and Rwanda, because that country was not a traditional part of the British empire. That is a positive step, and part of the future between the United Kingdom and Rwanda will be due to the fact that it is a member of the Commonwealth, and we will be working with it, and learning from each other about the progress of democracy.
We have heard about the horrific Rwandan genocide. I visited Kigali last year through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and I am grateful to it for that. As many people have observed, Rwanda is a physically beautiful, stunning country, and a place where one cannot imagine horrific things happening. When I visited I saw the genocide memorial and spoke to survivors, and I was profoundly shocked by the systematic killing that had taken place. Indeed, the systematic nature of it put me in mind of the holocaust and my visits to Yad Vashem and subsequently to Auschwitz, and it shocked me most profoundly. That aspect needs to be stressed when we talk about Rwanda.
That the holocaust happened is a stain on human history, and that the Rwandan genocide happened subsequently is the most compelling reason for combining the holocaust memorial movement with highlighting the detail of the Rwandan genocide. Of course, that is what is happening through groups such as the all-party group for the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, and that work is being carried forward. I attended a Holocaust memorial day event at which a Rwandan survivor gave an account of what had happened in Rwanda, which was very powerful. I commend people from Rwanda and holocaust survivors for working together in that way and getting across the message that this is something that happened twice, as well as on other occasions that we know about in recent history.
It is against the backdrop of the dreadful events described by the hon. Member for Braintree at the beginning of this debate that we see the present state of Rwanda. Extraordinary progress has been made and that is hugely impressive. An understanding of what happened in the genocide is an essential precondition to understanding Rwanda today. There is a real determination in the country to build a Rwandan identity to overcome the past. Rwanda’s admission to the Commonwealth, in November 2009, is expressive of its wish to build a democratic future where human rights are respected. We know from our own history that this is not a straightforward path and that each individual country will follow it in its own way. The role of the Commonwealth, with the United Kingdom playing its part, should be to help any Commonwealth country that wants to follow that road.
There has been extraordinary progress in the 20 years since the genocide. Led by President Kagame, the Government in Rwanda have made enormous strides. One cannot help but be struck by the impressive roads and communications, the cleanliness and the enormous steps that have been made to reduce poverty. We see the importance placed on education, referred to in the debate, which is the route to a more positive future for any country.
On my visit to Rwanda, I was impressed by the country’s functional capacity and cohesion. I saw the land registration project mentioned by the hon. Member for Stafford. Distribution and ownership of land is an essential precondition of a functioning economy. It is a fundamental way of building an economy. That has been aided by DFID. A great deal of positive work has been done by the United Kingdom and UK aid. The role of women is strongly supported by the UK. That is a very important part of the positive path that Rwanda is currently taking.
I have spoken to private sector investors who are massively impressed by Rwanda because of its lack of corruption. They will not invest anywhere else in Africa, because of their perception of the lack of corruption in Rwanda. Rwanda’s progress has led to massive support for President Kagame at the ballot box, but the impact of an effective opposition is yet to be seen in the country. Striking the delicate balance between building a cohesive society, given the horrific genocide, and encouraging a multiplicity of political views, is a challenge that continues.
Members referred to the responsibility to protect doctrine. It is a difficult doctrine, which countries and Governments must continue to work on to address the problems we face across the globe. It is difficult, but essential. We have talked about the impact of conflict around the world. The Rwandan genocide of 20 years ago is a reminder that these events can happen and have happened more than once. We need to forge an international response, so we have in place measures to ensure that our responsibilities and common humanity always trump our individual national interests.
This has been a moving, powerful and constructive couple of hours. At the outset, it is appropriate to join other Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) on securing this important debate. I wish him a very happy birthday on behalf of us all. I thank all Members who have participated. I thought that this might be one of those afternoons when the House was at its best, but it has exceeded itself. It has been fascinating for me to listen to the strong support for Rwanda.
Everyone would acknowledge that Rwanda is a country that can divide opinion, but the support for it has been clear today, from people who know a lot about the country and have visited it. I was struck by the quality of the contributions and the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) when he said that Rwanda is now in the Commonwealth.
Perhaps I should apologise for not being the Minister with responsibility for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), who, with the Foreign Secretary, attended the commemorations in Rwanda and is on the continent at the moment, but this does have a personal resonance for me, as in 1994 I was serving in Bosnia. I was on loan to the Foreign Office from the Army and I was looking after the British detachment in Sarajevo that was responsible for trying to secure the aid that flew into the city when it was under siege. Many Members have made the point that the world reacted a little late to the situation in Rwanda—we would all agree with that—and I suspect that part of the problem may have been that the world’s attention was focused on the Balkans and not on Africa.
Let me deal with some of the contributions, starting with the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree, who did a good job at the top of the debate of reminding us of the chilling events of 20 years ago and then drawing the lessons out in respect of the importance of R2P. Let me join others in wishing him well with his charity, thanking him for setting it up and congratulating him on that excellent initiative.
The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) spoke movingly about the special relationship between Rwanda and the UK, giving us some valuable insights on the basis of his visit. I was struck by the positive impression he gave of the country, as others have done, and of its achievements since that awful process 20 years ago.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) also gave us some personal impressions of the memorial site and talked about the events leading up to the genocide, the mass nature of it, the speed with which it happened and international inaction. He rightly draws lessons from that, but I fear that they are pretty regular lessons from conflicts of that sort right the way around the world. Indeed, one could have said many of the same things about the conflict in which I was involved in Bosnia. I agree with him that 20 years on is a very good time to encourage Rwandan society to use that experience to develop civil society.
It is always a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) speak and I would like to join him in praising the work of the Aegis Trust, as many others have done. He asked a question about the veto power; it is a good question and it is central to what might happen. That French proposal is part of a wider package and the wider debate on Security Council reform. He will doubtless be pleased to hear that I can assure him that the UK wholeheartedly supports the principle that the Security Council must act to stop mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. I am happy to put on the record the fact that I cannot envisage any set of circumstances—I have been thinking about this over the past hour—in which we would use a British veto to stop such an action. In a sense, the difficulty with the proposal was set out in the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree: the problem with reforming the United Nations is always getting the agreement of the five permanent members of the Security Council and agreement more generally. As we have seen on Syria, the likelihood is that any such initiative—clearly we have not yet put it to a vote—would attract a veto from other powers, but the principle is certainly correct.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) in paying tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who really did introduce Rwanda to many of us. She made some excellent points about the development of its economy, and I loved the term “villagisation” and what she said about encouraging exports. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who has been widely praised for his command of Swahili, made a good point about the BBC World Service, the impartial reporting by the BBC and the role the BBC played in bringing this conflict to the world’s attention. He is absolutely right about not forgetting the survivors and about the benefits of early intervention, and I thank him very much for the work he is undertaking with Project Umubano.
I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) on his work teaching business skills, because if we look at the economic figures in Rwanda, we see that he is clearly having a considerable effect very early on—the benefits of early intervention. He rightly talked about the importance of community engagement.
The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) is entirely right about the lessons of 1994 and early engagement. I should love to be able to tell her confidently that the lesson has been learnt and the mistake will never be repeated, but, given the way in which the world works, I suspect that that would be over-confident. It could be argued, however, that the key driver in the intervention in the Libyan conflict was the threat of a massacre. She can take some comfort from the fact that people are now thinking in such terms, and that the work of R2P, and other work that is taking place, has made the international community much more focused on the issue than it was 20 years ago. I do not pretend that this is a perfect world, but I think that progress has been made.
I thank the hon. Member for Wrexham for a very elegant summary, and for making the point about the Commonwealth. I agreed with everything he said, and I thank him not only for what he said, but for the way in which he said it.
The events of 20 years ago were sufficiently important to this country for us to send both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister with responsibility for Africa to attend the genocide commemorations in Kigali on 7 April, to pay tribute to the victims and to demonstrate our commitment to Rwanda. I am delighted that so many members of the all-party group were there as well.
In the past 20 years, Rwanda has made astonishing progress, and I use that word advisedly. Poverty levels have been lowered, the Rwandan economy continues to grow, and more and more Rwandans are finding work. Access to education has increased substantially, and girls are given the same access as boys.
It should be a matter of some pride to us that this country has been Rwanda’s long-standing friend. We have been one of its development partners for many years, and we will continue to be a close partner. However, as many have acknowledged, there is much left to do. We will continue to urge the Rwandan Government to address human rights concerns such as freedom of expression, and to ensure that political space is opened. It is important for Rwanda to use its growing confidence to be a force for good in the region and on the international stage. We would have an extraordinarily positive legacy if it were to do that against the backdrop of the dreadful events of 20 years ago.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee, and indeed the Leader of the House, for their support in enabling this important debate to take place in the main Chamber. I also thank Members in all parts of the House for their excellent contributions, and for sharing their respective experiences. I congratulate this Government and the last Government, especially the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, on their commitment to helping Rwanda on its path to recovery, and—this point was made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas)—on welcoming Rwanda to the Commonwealth of Nations.
As for those who died in 1994, we will remember them, and honour them, by reaffirming in the House today the words “Never again.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when over the course of a 100-day period in 1994 at least 800,000 Rwandans were murdered; and calls on the Government to reinforce its commitment to the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and to working within the UN to promote international justice and to avoid mass atrocities which are still committed across the globe today.