25 Years since the Rwandan Genocide

Rev Lesley Bilinda (pictured), vicar of St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields, recently spoke at the Scottish Parliament about her own experiences of the Rwandan Genocide which occurred 25 years ago.

In April 1994 when the genocide began, I had been living in Rwanda for nearly 5 years. I was a midwife running a community health programme with Tearfund and I was married to an Anglican, Rwandan priest. Rwanda was my home. Those being killed and those doing the killing were my friends, my neighbours and my colleagues. My husband was a Tutsi, and although many of his family survived thanks to the kindness and courage of Hutu neighbours, Charles was not so fortunate.

The genocide did not start with clubs and machetes. It was many years in the making. It started with words. It began in subtle ways. Discrimination, humiliation and mocking. Treating others as less than human. The language of hate. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: “Genocide emerges out of the dehumanisation and demonization of the ‘other’”. And this was most certainly the case in Rwanda. Tutsis were described as rats or cockroaches, vermin to be trampled on or annihilated.

When we treat others as less than human, we lose something of our own humanity. When we try to destroy others, physically or ideologically, we destroy something of ourselves. It’s only when we treat one another with dignity regardless of our differences that we can be truly and fully human.

In the Christian church when we as Christians meet together to share the bread and wine, the reminder of Jesus giving himself for the world – we put aside our differences, we are on a level playing field and we focus on the bigger picture, on God’s kingdom, on all that unites us as brothers and sisters together. To say “never again” to genocide means that we pledge ourselves not only to deter future genocide but to avoid the factors that lead to polarisation and divisions, by treating one another with dignity and respect, even those we totally disagree with. In this way, we pledge to build a stronger community locally, nationally and globally.

The full video of Lesley’s talk can be seen here: