President Obama on Sunday marked 20 years since the beginning of the Rwandan genocide that “took the lives of so many innocents and which shook the conscience of the world.”
“We honor the memory of the more than 800,000 men, women and children who were senselessly slaughtered simply because of who they were or what they believed,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
“We stand in awe of their families, who have summoned the courage to carry on, and the survivors, who have worked through their wounds to rebuild their lives,” he added. “And we salute the determination of the Rwandans who have made important progress toward healing old wounds, unleashing the economic growth that lifts people from poverty, and contributing to peacekeeping missions around the world to spare others the pain they have known.”
Obama’s comments came at the start of a week of official mourning in Rwanda.
He said the genocide was “neither an accident nor unavoidable.”
“It was a deliberate and systematic effort by human beings to destroy other human beings,” Obama said.
“The horrific events of those 100 days—when friend turned against friend, and neighbor against neighbor—compel us to resist our worst instincts, just as the courage of those who risked their lives to save others reminds us of our obligations to our fellow man.”
Obama said the genocide, coupled with the world’s failure to respond more quickly, “reminds us that we always have a choice.”
“In the face of hatred, we must remember the humanity we share. In the face of cruelty, we must choose compassion. In the face of intolerance and suffering, we must never be indifferent. Embracing this spirit, as nations and as individuals, is how we can honor all those who were lost two decades ago and build a future worthy of their lives,” he said.