“Only those who crossed the night can tell it.”
Those are the words, loaded with gravity and dignity, that resonate here, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Gisozi.
To tell of that night.
These words summon up a profound silence. The silence of more than a million men, women and children who are no longer here to tell of that interminable eclipse of humanity, those hours when everything fell silent.
They tell us of the desperate race of the victims, their flight into the forest and marshes. A race with no finish line and no hope, an implacable hunt that resumed every morning, every afternoon, in a terrible, banal repetition of evil.
They invoke the voice of those who, after falling, faced death or torture at the hands of their executioners, without a cry, sometimes to allow a loved one, a parent, a child, or a friend, to escape, someone they protected in their dying breath. Those voices which fell silent just as, as day broke, the terrible euphoria of the rallying calls of those who killed “together” and those who left, in their twisted vocabulary, for “work”.
This place restores to them what was taken from them: a face, a story, memories. Desires, dreams. And above all, an identity and a name: all the names, engraved tirelessly, one by one, on the eternal stone of this memorial.
Those words also invoke the voice of those who bear the wound of that night, those who bear the open wound of being there and still being here. Those whose suffering was not heard, not before, not during, and not after, and that is perhaps the worst. Survivors, escapees and orphans, it is thanks to their testimony, their courage and their dignity that today we can truly see that it is not just a matter of numbers or words, but the irreplaceable depth of their lives.
These words tell a tragedy that has a name: genocide. But they mean much more, because it is a matter of lives, with all of their dreams, torn away a million times.
A genocide is not comparable. It has a genealogy. It has a history. It is unique.
A genocide has a target. The killers had just one, criminal obsession: the eradication of the Tutsis, of all the Tutsis. Men, women, their parents, their children. That obsession swept away all those who tried to stand in its way, and it never lost sight of its goal.
A genocide doesn’t happen overnight. It is prepared over time. It takes hold in people’s minds, methodically, abolishing the humanity of the other. It grows from sensational stories and strategies of domination elevated, as a scientific evidence. It takes root in daily humiliations, separations, deportations, then reveals itself in absolute hatred and the mechanics of extermination.
A genocide cannot be erased. Its marks are indelible. There is no end. There is no life after a genocide, one lives with it, as one can.
In Rwanda, it is said that the birds do not sing on 7 April. Because they know. It is up to humankind to break the silence.
And it is in the name of life that we must speak, name and recognize.
The killers who haunted the marshes, the hills and the churches did not bear France’s face. France was not an accomplice. The blood which flowed did not dishonour the weapons or hands of France’s soldiers, who themselves also saw the unspeakable, bandaged wounds, and suppressed their tears.
But France has a role, a history and a political responsibility in Rwanda. It has a duty: it must look history in the face and recognize the share of suffering that it inflicted itself on the Rwandan people by opting for too long to keep silent instead of examining the truth.
In joining, in 1990, a conflict in which it had no past, France was unable to hear the voice of those who warned it, or overestimated its strength in thinking that it could prevent what was already happening.
France did not understand that, in seeking to obstruct a regional conflict or civil war, in reality it remained alongside a genocidal regime. In ignoring the warnings of the most clear-sighted observers, France bore damning responsibility in a chain of events that led to the worst, at a time when it sought to prevent just that.
In Arusha, in August 1993, France thought, alongside Africans, to have finally brokered peace. Its leaders, its diplomats, worked to achieve this, persuaded that compromise and the sharing of power could prevail. Its efforts were commendable and courageous. But they were swept aside by a genocidal mechanics that wanted nothing to come in the way of its monstrous planning.
When in April 1994, the executioners began what they heinously called their “work”, the international community took three months, three interminable months, to react. We all abandoned hundreds of thousands of victims in a monstrous isolation.
In the aftermath, while French leaders were clear-sighted and courageous enough to describe it as a genocide, France was unable to address the situation appropriately.
Since then, 27 years of bitter distance have passed, 27 years of incomprehension and sincere but unsuccessful attempts at rapprochement, 27 years of suffering for those whose intimate history continues to be trampled by the antagonism of remembrance.
In standing alongside you, with humility and respect, I am here to recognize the scale of our responsibilities. This means continuing to work towards knowledge and truth, which can only be done through the rigorous work of researchers and historians. And this is what we are also doing by supporting a new generation of researchers, who have courageously opened a new area of knowledge. In hoping that, alongside France, all the stakeholders in this period of Rwandan history work to open all of their archives.
Recognizing this past also and especially means pursuing justice, by committing to ensure that no person suspected of crimes of genocide escapes justice.
Recognizing this past, our responsibility, is done without asking anything in return. We demand this of ourselves and for ourselves. This debt to the victims after staying silent for so long. A gift to the living whose pain we can, if they accept, still ease. This path of recognition, through our debts, our gifts, offers us hope to emerge from this night and once again walk down a path together. On this path, only those who got through the night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so, give us the gift of forgiveness.
I would today like to assure the young people of Rwanda that another meeting is possible. While not erasing anything of our past, there is an opportunity to forge a respectful, clear-sighted, inclusive and mutually demanding alliance, between the young people of Rwanda and France.
That is the appeal I am making here in Gisozi. Let us begin together the first of many tomorrows. Let us lay the ground here, for our children, for future happy memories. That is the meaning of the tribute I wish to pay to those we will remember, who were deprived of a future and to whom we owe one.