When we consider the Rwandan genocide, I believe that we must do so within two frameworks – the framework of Rwanda on the one hand and the framework of the international community on the other.


How should the people of Rwanda come to terms with the horror of the past? How should they deal with questions of responsibility?  And how should they ensure that the events of 1994 are never again repeated?


By the same token we need to examine the international community’s role.   How could it have allowed the events of 1994 to take place?  How can it ensure that they are never repeated – either in Rwanda or in any other country?


We South Africans can, perhaps, provide some insights into the manner in which deeply divided societies can unite to work for a better future together.  In April 1994 – at the exact time of the Rwandan genocide – we emerged from centuries of conflict and division.


As all the world knows we attempted to heal the wounds of our past by establishing our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Many of its initiatives helped both perpetrators and victims to come to terms with the past and to find reconciliation.  Its work often had a cathartic effect and undoubtedly exposed many abhorrent gross violations of human rights.  The Commission often did their best to cut to the root of our past conflict and to publish the truth as it saw it.


However, although the world regards our Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a successful model – this is unfortunately not the impression of many South Africans.  For many of the supporters of the previous government and of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party the TRC did not produce a version of the past which they could accept or with which they could identify.  As a result, our process did not end in reconciliation and we continue to suffer disunity and alienation as a result.


The root of the problem lay in the composition of the TRC.  Its 17 commissioners did not include a single representative who could express the perspectives of the National Party or of the IFP – two of the three main parties to the conflict.  Despite its best efforts and despite the best efforts of its Chairman – Archbishop Tutu – for whom I have the greatest respect – the Commission published a report that represented the perspectives of only one side in our troubled history.


The result is that many black and white South Africans now have quite different views of the country that we both inhabit.  It is as though black South Africans have their road map and we white South Africans have ours.  Because of this, we sometimes find it difficult to find one another and to identify the same road to the future.


Rwanda’s own experience with reconciliation has also been problematic.  Inter-community conflict predates the 1994 genocide and was by no means one-sided.  Sporadic killings of Tutsi began as early as 1959.  After 1994 many innocent Hutus were killed under the newly-installed Rwandese Patriotic Front government.  The new government set up a National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation (NCUR) and appointed a traditional court system to try the thousands of people who had been involved in the genocide.  The outcome of these efforts has more often been window-dressing rather than real reconciliation. All this has resulted in a relationship between the Hutus and Tutsis that is characterized by deep distrust, fear and animosity.


Clearly, there is a need for a truth and reconciliation process that will bring restorative rather than retributional justice.  Although many thousands of Hutus may be guilty of heinous crimes, it is difficult to see how the cycle of violence and distrust can be broken simply by the very imperfect prosecution process in the traditional courts,


Rwanda should not follow the South African system blindly.  Instead, it should ensure that both sides are fully represented in the process.  The objective should be a version of the past which both sides can accept, however reluctantly.


We in South Africa have found that it is much easier to agree about the future than the past.  Perhaps the focus of national reconciliation should be the creation of a society in which both Hutus and Tutsis will feel secure and fully represented,


However, when considering the question of responsibility for the genocide, we cannot ignore the role – or the lack of a role – played by the international community.  It is a matter of record that the UN and the West were fully aware of the likelihood of genocide even before it began in April 1994.  After it started, its scope and its horror were there for all to see – yet the international community did nothing to stop the slaughter.


I am haunted by an incident that reportedly occurred during the genocide.  At the top of a green hill there was a strongly manned UN peace-keeping post.  Some 2000 Tutsis under mortal threat from rampaging Hutus flocked to the UN post for protection.   The UN soldiers did not intervene because their rules of engagement forbade them to use their weapons unless they were fired on.  So they watched as hundreds of men, women and children were hacked to death on the hillside in front of them.


The international community must ask itself what it rules of engagement in Africa are – and what they should be.  The current conflict in Dafur has already cost more than 200 000 lives.  Will the world’s leading powers become involved in the problems of Africa only if their own vital interests are at stake? Will they continue to watch from their hilltop observation posts while Africa is ravaged by conflict, poverty and disease?


A good first step – not only for Africa – would be to work for a world in which cultural and ethnic communities can feel secure in multicultural societies.   The international community should promote a culture of community rights – just as it as already helped to establish a culture of individual human rights.  By so doing it could help to promote reconciliation and peaceful coexistence not only in Rwanda – but in multicultural societies throughout the world.