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Remarks by the President to Genocide Survivors, Assistance Workers, and U.S. and Rwanda Government Officials

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Trip to Africa

Office of the Press Secretary
(Kampala, Uganda)

For Immediate ReleaseMarch 25, 1998


Kigali, Airport
Kigali, Rwanda

12:25 PM (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. President. First, let me thank you, Mr.President, and Vice President Kasame, and your wives for making Hillary andme and our delegation feel so welcome. I'd also like to thank the youngstudents who met us and the musicians, the dancers who were outside. Ithank especially the survivors of the genocide and those who are working torebuild your country for spending a little time with us before we came inhere.

I have a great delegation of Americans with me, leaders of ourgovernment, leaders of our Congress, distinguished American citizens.We're all very greatful to be here. We thank the Diplomatic Corps forbeing here, and the members of the Rwandan government, and especially thecitizens.

I have come today to pay the respects of my nation to all who sufferedand all who perished in the Rwandan genocide. It is my hope that throughthis trip, in every corner of the world today and tomorrow, their storywill be told; that four years ago in this beautiful, green, lovely land, aclear and conscious decision was made by those then in power that thepeoples of this country would not live side by side in peace.

During the 90 days that began on April 6 in 1994, Rwanda experiencedthe most extensive slaughter in this blood-filled century we are about toleave. Families murdered in their homes, people hunted down as they fledby soldiers and militia, through farmland and woods as if they wereanimals.

From Kibuye in the west to Kibungo in the east, people gatheredseeking refuge in churches by the thousands, in hospitals, in schools. Andwhen they were found, the old and the sick, the women and children alike,they were killed -- killed because their identity card said they were Tutsior because they had a Tutsi parent, or because someone thought they lookedlike a Tutsi, or slain like thousands of Hutus because they protectedTutsis or would not countenance a policy that sought to wipe out people whojust the day before, and for years before, had been their friends andneighbors.

The government-led effort to exterminate Rwanda's Tutsi and moderateHutus, as you know better than me, took at least a million lives. Scholarsof these sorts of events say that the killers, armed mostly with machetesand clubs, nonetheless did their work five times as fast as the mechanizedgas chambers used by the Nazis.

It is important that the world know that these killings were notspontaneous or accidental. It is important that the world hear what yourPresident just said -- they were most certainly no the result of ancienttribal struggles. Indeed, these people had lived together for centuriesbefore the events the President described began to unfold.

These events grew from a policy aimed at the systematic destruction ofa people. The ground for violence was carefully prepared, the airwavespoisoned with hate, casting the Tutsis as scapegoats for the problems ofRwanda, denying their humanity. All of this was done, clearly, to make iteasy for otherwise reluctant people to participate in wholesale slaughter.

Lists of victims, name by name, were actually drawn up in advance.Today the images of all that haunt us all: the dead choking the KigaraRiver, floating to Lake Victoria. In their fate, we are reminded of thecapacity for people everywhere -- not just in Rwanda, and certainly notjust in Africa -- but the capacity for people everywhere to slip into pureevil. We cannot abolish that capacity, but we must never accept it. Andwe know it can be overcome.

The international community, together with nations in Africa, mustbear its share of responsibility for this tragedy, as well. We did not actquickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed therefugee camps to become safe haves for the killers. We did not immediatelycall these crimes by their rightful name: genocide. We cannot change thepast. But we can and must do everything in our power to help you build afuture without fear, and full of hope.

We owe to those who died and to those who survived who loved them, ourevery effort to increase our vigilance and strengthen our stand againstthose who would commit such atrocities in the future -- here or elsewhere.Indeed, we owe to all the peoples of the world who are at risk -- becauseeach bloodletting hastens the next as the value of human life is degradedand violence becomes tolerated, the unimaginable becomes more conceivable-- we owe to all the people in the world our best efforts to organizeourselves so that we can maximize the chances of preventing these events.And where they cannot be prevented, we can move more quickly to minimizethe horror.

So let us challenge ourselves to build a world in which no branch ofhumanity, because of national, racial, ethnic, or religious origin, isagain threatened with destruction because of those characteristics, ofwhich people should rightly be proud. Let us work together as a communityof civilized nations to strengthen our ability to prevent and, ifnecessary, to stop genocide.

To that end, I am directing my administration to improve, with theinternational community, our system for identifying and spotlightingnations in danger of genocidal violence, so that we can assure worldwideawareness of impending threats. It may seem strange to you here,especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all overthe world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day afterday, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which youwere being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.

We have seen, too -- and I want to say again -- that genocide canoccur anywhere. It is not an African phenomenon and must never be viewedas such. We have seen it in industrialized Europe; we have seen it inAsia. We must have global vigilance. And never again must we be shy inthe face of the evidence.

Secondly, we must as an international community have the ability toact when genocide threatens. We are working to create that capacity herein the Great Lakes region, where the memory is still fresh. This afternoonin Entebbe leaders from central and eastern Africa will meet with me tolaunch an effort to build a coalition to prevent genocide in this region.I thank the leaders who have stepped forward to make this commitment. Wehope the effort can be a model for all the world, because our sacred taskis to work to banish this greatest crime against humanity.

Events here show how urgent the work is. In the northwest part ofyour country, attacks by those responsible for the slaughter in 1994continue today. We must work as partners with Rwanda to end this violenceand allow your people to go on rebuilding your lives and your nation.

Third, we must work now to remedy the consequences of genocide. TheUnited States has provided assistance to Rwanda to settle the uprooted andrestart its economy, but we must do more. I am pleased that America willbecome the first nation to contribute to the new Genocide Survivors Fund.We will contribute this year $2 million, continue our support in the yearsto come, and urge other nations to do the same, so that survivors and theircommunities can find the care they need and the help they must have.

Mr. President, to you, and to you, Mr. Vice President, you have showngreat vision in your efforts to create a single nation in which allcitizens can live freely and securely. As you pointed out, Rwanda was asingle nation before the European powers met in Berlin to carve up Africa.America stands with you, and will continue helping the people of Rwanda torebuild their lives and society.

You spoke passionately this morning in our private meeting about theneed for grass-roots efforts, for the development projects which arebridging divisions and clearing a path to a better future. We will joinwith you to strengthen democratic institutions, to broaden participation,to give all Rwandans a greater voice in their own governance. Thechallenges you face are great, but your commitment to lastingreconciliation and inclusion is firm.

Fourth, to help ensure that those who survived in the generations tocome never again suffer genocidal violence, nothing is more vital thanestablishing the rule of law. There can be no place in Rwanda that lastswithout a justice system that is recognized as such.

We applaud the efforts of the Rwandan government to strengthencivilian and military justice systems. I am pleased that our Great lakesJustice Initiative will invest $30 million to help create throughout theregion judicial systems that are impartial, credible, and effective. InRwanda these funds will help to support courts, prosecutors, and police,military justice and cooperation at the local level.

We will also continue to pursue justice through our strong backing forthe International Criminal tribunal for Rwanda. The United States is thelargest contributor to this tribunal. We are frustrated, as your are, bythe delays in the tribunal's work. As we know, we must do better. Nowthat administrative improvements have begun, however, the tribunal shouldexpedite cases through group trials, and fulfill its historic mission.

We are prepared to help, among other things, with witness relocation,so that those who still fear can speak the truth in safety. And we willsupport the War Crimes tribunal for as long as it is needed to do its work,until the truth is clear and justice is rendered.

Fifth, we must make it clear to all those who would commit such actsin the future that they too must answer for their acts, and they will. InRwanda, we must hold accountable all those who may abuse human rights,whether insurgents or soldiers. Internationally, as we meet here, talksare underway at the United Nations to establish a permanent internationalcriminal court. Rwanda and the difficulties we have had with this specialtribunal underscores the need for such a court. And the United States willwork to see that it is created.

I know that in the face of all you have endured, optimism cannot come easily to any of you. Yet I have just spoken, as I said, with several Rwandans who survived the atrocities, and just listening to them gave me reason for hope. You see countless stories of courage around you every day as you go about your business here -- men and women who survived and go on, children who recover the light in their eyes remind us that at the dawn of a new millennium there is only one crucial division among the peoples of the Earth. And believe me, after over five years of dealing with these problems I know it is not the divisions between Hutu and Tutsi, or Serb or Croat and Muslim and Bosnian, or Arab and Jew, or Catholic and Protestant in Ireland, or black and white. It is really the line between those who embrace the common humanity we all share and those who reject it.

It is the line between those who find meaning in life through respect and cooperation and who, therefore, embrace peace, and those who can only find meaning in life if they have someone to look down on, someone to trample, someone to punish and, therefore, embrace war. It is the line between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past. It is the line between those who give up their resentment and those who believe they will absolutely die if they have to release one bit grievance. It is the line between those who confront every day with a clenched fist and those who confront every day with an open hand. That is the only line that really counts when all is said and done.

To those who believe that God made each of us in His own image, howcould we choose the darker road? When you look at those children whogreeted us as we got off that plane today, how could anyone say they didnot want those children to have a chance to have their own children? Toexperience the joy of another morning sunrise? To learn the normal lessonsof life? To give something back to their people?

When you strip it all away, whether we're talking about Rwanda or someother distant troubled spot, the world is divided according to how peoplebelieve they draw meaning from life.

And so I say to you , though the road is hard and uncertain, andtheir are many difficulties ahead, and like every other person who wishesto help, I doubtless will not be able to do everything I would like to do,there are things we can do. And if we set about the business of doing themtogether, you can overcome the awful burden that you have endured. You canput a smile on the face of every child in this country, and you can makepeople once again believe that they should live as people were living whowere singing to us and dancing for us today.

That's what we have to believe. That is what I came here to say. Andthat is what I wish for you.

Thank you and God bless you.

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Africa Trip Speeches

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