How Knowledge Effectively Combats Genocide Denial

Rwanda faces many challenges as the country continues to develop. Caught in the middle of the African continent, this small nation is trying to recover from the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide through economic, political and social development. One specific challenge outside the usual realm of nation building is combating attacks on the country’s very important history. The genocide is still very much a cornerstone of how many Rwandans view and interpret themselves, their social interactions, the country and world. It cannot be overstated how influential the genocide still is at this point in time from the President to the average Rwandan. Such as with every challenge, Rwanda is facing great difficulties about how to properly honor those who died and suffered. Denial and revisionism of the historical events that led up to and encompass the massacres are found both within the hidden corners of the world as well as in broad daylight.

The most recent example of a major genocide denial is the October 2014 BBC airing of the documentary titled Rwanda’s Untold Story. I have already addressed the documentary’s claims in a past article that can be found by clicking here: (Link). In response to the documentary, the Rwandan government decided to place an indefinite ban on the BBC’s Kinyarwanda radio station. Rwandan law has within itself legal mechanisms to stop or prevent the spread of genocide denial. Despite criticism from supporters of freedom of speech, the Rwandan government continues to enforce the ban in an effort to punish the BBC for broadcasting the highly questionable documentary. However, is banning media the best mechanism for combating genocide revisionism? I do not believe so.

Trying to ban an incorrect or false idea or belief usually just helps it spread, especially if a government is the one trying to have it suspended. Individuals, who are unfamiliar with the topic, tend to gravitate towards information perceived as being taboo. This is especially true if it is difficult to find out the truth. That is why since a very young age I have believed that the best way to combat a dangerous idea is with truth and knowledge. Only by properly educating people about what happened can the false idea truly lose its power. Recently, Aegis Trust helped Rwanda to combat genocide denial by introducing its new online archive.

On June 10, Aegis launched its Genocide Archive of Rwanda, with an impressive resource of over 8,000 photographs, videos, documentaries and other tools for people to be able to learn about the horrific genocide that took place twenty-one years ago. This valuable source of information is available for anyone as it can be accessed over the internet. Educators in the United States can access its material in order to properly teach the genocide rather than using the less than historically accurate movie, Hotel Rwanda. Perhaps most importantly, this archive provides anyone with the ability to learn about the genocide. This can be the biggest weapon against genocide denial for historians, academics, and anyone else whether they are Rwandan or from a different country, as they can now easily show the true history of what occurred in 1994. Instead of trying to single-handedly disprove revisionists’ claims found throughout the BBC documentary, they can now direct people to an archive rich with history and the truth.

Rwanda will be combating genocide denial for a very long time. Only a few months ago, the world was commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide with the Turkish government still denying any wrongdoing. It is a cold reality to accept that in seventy-nine years, when the world remembers the 100th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, there will still be genocide revisionists. Suspensions or bans are truly powerless to effectively stop revisionists in their attempts to tell the world their incorrect understanding of historical events. Only through education and having easily accessible information available for anyone to read can we make sure that the accurate history of the genocide is remembered. The weapon of knowledge will enhance the fight against denial thanks to this new archive and the many that will follow in its wake. Everyone will have access to its important information on why and how Rwanda suffered.

About the Author
Jonathan Beloff is a current PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies and is performing his research on Rwandan foreign policy titled, "The Evolution of Rwandan Foreign Policy from Genocide to Globalisation”. His academic focus is on economic development and international relations in the African Great Lakes Region. He previously worked for the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (Kigali, Rwanda), the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Vad Vashem.
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