A prominent civic figure from Rwanda spoke about the African country’s determined fight against hate and discrimination during the Holocaust Memorial ceremony at Middlesex University. The event, held at the University’s Hendon campus on Sunday (28/1), was themed ‘Fragility of Freedom’ as people of all faiths and backgrounds from Barnet borough remembered victims of genocides, including the six million people killed in the Holocaust by Nazis and subsequent atrocities in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Darfur.
"We instruct every effort to counter the destructive power of division. Only then can we create a future where freedom is as lasting and enduring as the commitment that the horrors of genocide will never again haunt humanity." Johnston Busingye, the High Commissioner of Rwanda to the UK.
Johnston Busingye, the High Commissioner of Rwanda to the UK, marked the 30th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi people during a civil war in 1994 which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Mr Busingye said: “The fragility of freedom becomes evident when things like discrimination, division and hate creep into the fabric of society. The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda serves as a stark reminder of that freedom can be chipped away one piece at a time, over time, until victims become completely sub-human in the eyes of perpetrators. Rwanda’s painful story teaches us that genocide does not happen overnight but starts small and grows in phases.”
He described how actions associated with genocide such as forced displacement, hate propaganda, labelling people ‘foreigners’ and continued denial, blame and cover-ups by perpetrators ‘strip away freedom and basic human rights’. Legislation in Rwanda has banned hate speech, ethnic discrimination and genocide denial.
“Rwanda has travelled this journey and we have not given in,” added Mr Busingye. “To prevent reoccurrence we embrace unity, reconciliation, justice and accountability. We instruct every effort to counter the destructive power of division. Only then can we create a future where freedom is as lasting and enduring as the commitment that the horrors of genocide will never again haunt humanity.”
Hosted by Barnet Council in partnership with Middlesex University, the Barnet Multi-Forum and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the memorial included speeches from various faith and community leaders including Holocaust Education Trust chairman Craig Leviton and Barnet Council leader Barry Rawlings. Around 300 attendees joined in prayers and listened to performances from the Barnet Band and the Edgware and Hendon Synagogue Choir, while pupils from Alma Primary placed candles in memory of those who died in the Holocaust.
Two students from East Barnet School and Holocaust Educational Trust ambassadors – Amberley and Anna - powerfully recalled lessons learned from visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau and the ‘devastating impact’ this had on Jewish communities.
Councillor Nagus Narenthira, The Worshipful Mayor of Barnet, told how her brother had been killed in a hospital massacre in Sri Lanka in 1987 a few months after she fled the country with her son and husband. "We have a lot to be grateful for living in a country where democracy is taken for granted but it doesn’t take much for hate to creep in."
Professor Sean Wellington, Interim Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, said: “We support sharing knowledge, bringing people together and supporting community cohesion and inclusion and this is more important than ever at the moment. Our thoughts are with those affected by conflicts around the world.”
Esmond Rosen, President of the Barnet Multi-Faith Forum (BMFF), said: “The fragility of our freedoms so heroically fought for, can only be maintained if we strive for a free, tolerant, and democratic society. The recognition of the fragility of freedom and the ongoing work to sustain it, underpins the values of the BMFF and this work is made possible because of strong partnerships created and zero tolerance to all forms of prejudice and racism.”
Pictures by Simon O'Connor
Find out more about the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.