Foto: Author ZhengZhou. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The Swedish Embassy in Kigali organised a discussion evening, held in April, focusing on what the world can do to contribute to knowledge about the genocide. Taking centre stage was Swedish journalist Gunilla von Hall, who reported from Rwanda during the genocide. More than one hundred of her photographs of various massacres around the country were never published and were almost forgotten, but they have now been handed over to Rwanda.
When Gunilla von Hall visited Rwanda in January 2019 for the first time since the genocide, Ambassador Jenny Ohlsson told her that genocide deniers are taking advantage of the lack of documentation of the events in Rwanda. Gunilla therefore decided to hand over her photographs to Rwanda. In close cooperation with the Embassy, the photographs were digitised and presented at a formal ceremony.
The purpose of the ceremony was to contribute to the ongoing reconciliation process in Rwanda, and to constructively show Sweden’s solidarity with those affected and our engagement in the fight against genocide ideology, historical revisionism and genocide denial.
“Sweden is deeply engaged in issues related to remembrance and genocide education. We have been supporting reconciliation initiatives in Rwanda for many years. It felt important to take an active role in the remembrance period, and to show that a relatively small country like Sweden is trying in various ways to contribute to ‘Never again’, particularly in Rwanda, where memory of the international community’s failure in 1994 is still strong. The event displayed many Swedish values and foreign policy positions related to the administration of justice, international accountability and the importance of educational initiatives,” says Ambassador Jenny Ohlsson.
At the event at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250 000 victims of the genocide have been laid to rest, a documentary film on the genocide in Rwanda was screened. It was produced by the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company for lower and upper secondary school pupils. The film puts considerable emphasis on the administration of justice and how Sweden works actively to combat impunity when those accused of genocide are on Swedish soil. The documentary and the presentation ceremony highlighted what we in Sweden are doing to teach our young people and ourselves about the importance of ‘Never again’, how we are working to fight historical revisionism, and that Sweden is not a sanctuary for those accused of genocide.
“The enormously positive reactions in Rwandan society to the photographs that were handed over surprised me. Sweden received a lot of attention. I believe this went beyond the photographs and the film. It was about showing that countries in Europe can also feel strong engagement for supporting remembrance and fighting historical revisionism, even if it concerns a genocide that occurred far away. The photographs themselves have already resulted in people getting in touch to try to identify their murdered relatives. These are now available at the Genocide Archive of Rwanda in Kigali. They will serve as clear evidence when historical revisionists raise their voices or when future researchers need to learn more about the events of 1994,” says Jenny Ohlsson.
Representatives from Rwanda’s Government, justice system, Office of the President, National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, survivor organisations and civil society participated in the event. The Swedish initiative received a lot of coverage in Rwandan media and deep gratitude was expressed for the photographs, and for Sweden’s efforts to fight impunity and educate young people about the genocide.
“For the Embassy, it seemed fitting to organise this special event. In a sad and dark period of remembrance for the country, our initiative was a ray of light and several other countries have now started to think about what they can do to hand over the various types of documentation they may have on the genocide in Rwanda. We are very pleased if we have be able to contribute to this,” says Ambassador Jenny Ohlsson.