Dr. Sherif Emil's dispatches from Rwanda: When good people do nothing

Dispatch # 5

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. ” - Edmund Burke

 When most people hear the word Rwanda, genocide is probably the first association that comes to mind. After detailed ward rounds at the hospital today in which we caught up on all the patients, I paid a visit to a place that has been on my mind since I decided to come to Rwanda – the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

For 100 days starting in April, 1994, a killing frenzy took place in Rwanda. When it was over, more than a million Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus, including thousands of children, were dead, more than two million displaced, and hundreds of thousands injured, raped, or orphaned. The genocide was pre-planned and could be seen coming. Yet, the United Nations and the entire international community chose to turn their eyes away from it, and in fact declined opportunities to actively prevent it.  The entire world was an accessory to murder.

Photo above: The Wall of Names of those who were killed in the Genocide. It is a work in progress since the identities of  tens of thousands of victims are yet to be identified. 

When you walk the streets of Kigali today, it is very difficult to imagine that it has been less than 20 years since the genocide. Kigali feels like any other African city. In fact, it is quite a bit safer than most. The people are genuinely warm and welcoming. In 1994, Rwanda died. After visiting the memorial, I feel like I am in a place that has been raised from the dead, a testament to forgiveness and reconciliation.

But the normality of Kigali also haunts me. If a genocide could happen here and among these people, it could happen anywhere.

The Genocide Memorial has a section on the pre-genocidal environment that existed in the country in the 1990’s. It was an environment of public and open hatred, discrimination, and incitement against a specific group of people, often culminating in repeated massacres. Sadly, this environment still exists in many countries today, and sadly the world still turns its eyes away.

Almost twenty years ago, evil triumphed in Rwanda because so many good people around the world did nothing.  If we can’t find the desire and the courage to speak out against discrimination and hatred wherever we may find it, whether in our backyard or half way around the world, evil can triumph once again. 

Photo above left: Mass graves at the Kigali Genocide Memorial where thousands are buried.

Dr. Sherif Emil is a pediatric surgeon and Director of Pediatric Surgery at the Montreal Children's Hospital. His trip to Rwanda is part of a McGill program to train surgical residents at the National University of Rwanda and the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Kigali.

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