Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles Remarks for the 22nd Genocide Commemoration at the U.S. Embassy

U.S.Mission Remembers Fallen Colleagues

Mwiriwe (Good Afternoon).

  • Director General of the Research and Documentation Center on the Genocide at the National Commission for the Fight against the Genocide, Dr. Jean Damascene Gasanabo,
  • Representative of the Ibuka Association, Second Vice President Freddy Mutanguha,
  • Survivor orphans, Widows, Relatives,
  • Friends of our fallen colleagues,
  • U.S. Embassy colleagues,
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

I am humbled to stand here today with you, as we pay our respects to our colleagues who perished 22 years ago.  Our pain today reflects the joy they brought us in life.  We will never forget them.

I have been here now for a little bit over one year.  And, throughout the past year, I have come to realize that those of us who come from the United States to live and work with you for a few years can never fully understand the tragedy that Rwanda endured during the genocide, and that many of you personally endured.   We cannot fully understand the impact the genocide still has – every single day – on the lives of so many.  As I have traveled the length and breadth of this beautiful country and met so many Rwandans, I am continually humbled by your courage to constantly choose, day after day, to remember, unite and renew:  to extend forgiveness, pursue reconciliation, and to build a new future.

On days like today, we all wish that we could go back in time and change history.  The world failed twenty-two years ago – all of us – we failed the people of Rwanda in their hour of greatest need.

Though we cannot change history, we can stand together to ensure that the lessons that history would teach us are preserved and passed down to future generations.  We must never forget what happened here.  And we must stand up to those who try to diminish the events of 1994 and say: it happened.  The genocide happened.  We cannot let those who would deny history do so.

I am proud that we here at the United States Embassy are working to do our part to remember and honor the fallen, and to preserve the evidence of the genocide for future generations.  Very early in my time as Ambassador, I visited the Nyamata Genocide Memorial.  It was one of the most powerful experiences I have had in Rwanda.  The bullet holes in the ceiling, the clothes of the victims, the blood stains on the altar cloth and on the very bricks of the building – all bear witness to the horrors that happened there, to the ten thousand of souls whose lives were cut short at Nyamata, and to the depth of evil which occurred – in a church of all places, which was meant to be a sanctuary, a house of God.

After encountering the horrors of the genocide in such an immediate, heart-wrenching way, I could not help but emerge with a new understanding of what happened – and a newly strengthened commitment to ensure that it is never allowed to happen again.

So, I am tremendously proud that we are partnering with our friends at CNLG to support the preservation of the Nyamata memorial site.  Through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and the hard work in particular of the Public Affairs team, we have received a grant that will provide training this June and July to Rwandan experts, enabling them to preserve the important historical artifacts and structures not only at Nyamata where the training will occur, but also at other sites across Rwanda.  This is especially important for future generations – to make sure the horror and the lessons of genocide are never forgotten, and the work of peacebuilding continues.  We are also working to help preserve the artifacts at Nyamata so that there will not be any way to deny what happened in Rwanda.  The artifacts at Nyamata are evidence – undeniable evidence that the genocide happened.

As we preserve the truth about the past, it is also essential that we stand with those who survived.  I am tremendously proud that, as a community – led by our Local Employee Council – we have come together to support the orphans of the Embassy staff who were killed in 1994.  Since 2005, the Genocide Orphans Education fund has supported their education, university studies, and vocational training.

In the true Rwandan spirit, our Embassy has ensured that these survivors remain part of our community.  And as they have completed their education, some of them  are now establishing families of their own, supporting Rwanda’s renaissance, and stepping forward to support younger survivors and citizens in need.

When I think of the remarkable courage and strength of character that it takes to not simply survive but to be an engine for restoration and healing, I think of Rwandans like Herve Ngenzi.  Herve’s mother Eugenie worked with USAID as a training specialist, and lost her life in the genocide.  Despite losing his mother at a young age, Herve applied himself to his studies, and with the support of the Embassy community completed a degree in engineering.  Working as an electrical engineer, Herve has worked in the private sector and with the Ministry of Infrastructure to support the expansion of Kigali city.  Some of you attended his wedding last year, and celebrated the recent birth of his firstborn son.  Now, along with many of you and others in the community, Herve is starting to give back, including through supporting the education of other survivors who are still in school.

Herve’s story is amazing, but it is not unique.  Over the past years, many of you have supported survivors, funded education for needy students, and have worked for reconciliation in your communities.  This past year, as Rwanda opened its borders to Burundians fleeing the crisis there, many of you opened your homes to refugees, providing security and shelter in a time of great uncertainty.  And some of you continue to do so to this day – helping support those in need.

The message during commemoration events is Remember, Unite, and Renew.  We do each of these here today as we gather to remember those Embassy employees who lost their lives during the genocide.  Rwanda is also developing its economy and providing new opportunities for its citizens.  Everyone here today is playing his or her role through our programs, our partnerships, and our daily work to help move the country forward.  That is unity.  And, that is renewal.

We also will not rest – even if it takes a very long time – until those who perpetrated the genocide are brought to justice.  On that note, we were very pleased that Ladislas Ntaganzwa was recently returned to Rwanda by the government of the DRC and the MICT.  He was one of the remaining nine – now eight – indictees before the ICTR that remained fugitives from justice.  For each and every one these individuals, the United States has offered, and continues to offer, a $5 million reward for information leading to their arrest.  We will continue to work with the Government of Rwanda and the international community until all of them face justice in a court of law.

As Secretary Kerry said in his statement on April 7, “The United States remains deeply committed to preventing the horror of mass atrocities and genocide from occurring again, and to continuing to work with the people of Rwanda and the international community to finish the task of bringing those responsible for those heinous acts to justice.”

I am honored to be with you today, to remember with you today, and to work with you to support justice, reconciliation, healing, and development in Rwanda.

Murakoze cyane.