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  • Kigali, 13 April 2018



    Distinguished Representatives of the Aegis Trust – the Laureate of the 2nd edition of the Lemkin Award,

    Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,


    Ladies and Gentlemen,


    Yesterday, on the Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Presidents of Poland and Israel took part together in the International March of the Living at Auschwitz Birkenau, commemorating the victims of the German Nazi crimes committed during the Second World War. I am deeply touched to be today in Kigali to pay tribute to the victims of another genocide, which happened here in Rwanda, and to recall the life of Rafał Lemkin.


    Today is the final day of the National Genocide Commemoration Week. For me it is both an honour and a responsibility to address you on this day and at this important venue. When you realize that the ground under our feet covers the remains of nearly 250,000 victims of racial hatred, words lose their power to confront the enormity of crime and human tragedy.


    Twenty-four years ago Rwanda was the scene of a tragedy: 800.000 people, up to a million, were slaughtered by their neighbours over 100 days. Genocide against Tutsis constituted the fastest-moving killing spree humanity has ever faced, what we heard during today’s visit to the KGM. As the Polish researcher Joanna Bar observed,


    In the case of Rwanda, we can identify all the typical features which are believed to accompany genocide: the unwitting overstepping of the border between good and evil, the blind obedience to authority figures, and the embracing of an ideology where the end justified the methods of solving the problem. Last but not least, in Rwanda we saw an attempt to carry out a ‘total genocide’ whose institutional framework was developed by the governing elite. In practice, however, the genocide was committed through the agency of civilians who supported militant groups. 


    The crime perpetrated twenty-four years ago on Rwandan soil against the Tutsis had global ramifications. It is hard not to agree with  the Rwandan writer and eyewitness of those events Immaculée Ilibagiza:


    What happened in Rwanda happened to us all – humanity was wounded by the genocide.


    Every time genocidal acts are committed, direct perpetrators are not the only ones to blame. Some of the blame also falls on the whole international community, which could not prevent this from happening.



    Ladies and Gentlemen,


    Several decades before the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, another genocide – against the Jews – was unleashed by German-Nazi occupiers in Europe. At the outbreak of the Second World War the Patron of the Award, Polish lawyer of Jewish descent Rafał Lemkin, after volunteering to take part in the defence of Poland against the Germans, left Warsaw to join the forces that were being formed in the east of the country. The unexpected Soviet invasion forced Lemkin to escape through Lithuania to Sweden. In 1941, he ultimately reached the United States. Tragically, the Holocaust claimed the lives of nearly all of Lemkin’s loved ones.


    A few years later, those events prompted the United Nations to adopt the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The driving force behind that project was Rafał Lemkin, who filled the conceptual vacuum by defining the notion of genocide in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The definition of genocide was later included in the 1948 Convention. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention.



    Ladies and Gentlemen,


    The aim of the Rafał Lemkin International Award is to honour those who continue Lemkin’s legacy, who fight against genocide, deepen our knowledge about its sources and its ramifications, and improve mechanisms to prevent mass crimes. The Award highlights the key role that international humanitarian law and human rights play in Poland’s foreign policy.


    “Crimen grave non potest esse impunibile” – you can read from the Award’s motto. “Grave crimes must not go unpunished”. A motto which is directly linked to the achievements of Judge Philippe Kirsch, the first winner of the Award – who is with us today, who chaired the panel – and who co-authored the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court, and was the first President of the ICC.


    This year the Award goes to the Aegis Trust, a non-governmental organization which shows that punishment can also be administered in other ways than by judicial sentence only.


    Punishment can be imposed through the memory of deeds and dates that are written down. Judicial justice has its limits. We have heard judges speak about those limits during the seminar. But you don’t need a court procedure to cultivate memory. What you do need is an open mind, a sympathetic heart, and diligent hands. Put simply, you need passion, and that is something the founders and staff of the Aegis Trust have plenty of.


    Founded by the Smith brothers nearly 20 years ago, the organization has been providing education and training to diverse audiences. It has also shaped attitudes that give hope for peace in regions marred by violence and suffering. In the recent past, the Organization’s focus in Africa has been on Rwanda, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Using the powerful tool of education, the Aegis Trust has been helping victims, documenting crimes, highlighting threats and making people more sensitive – wherever human life is hostage to criminal ideology. The commitment of the Aegis Trust’s courageous and passionate team bolsters our faith in humanity. It definitely merits recognition by the international community.


    The Education for Sustainable Peace in Rwanda programme by the Aegis Trust encourages changes to the national curriculum by promoting critical thinking, empathy, personal responsibility and trust, which was explained during the seminar. It will allow thousands of young Rwandans to overcome the burden of the past. Staff of the Education for Sustainable Peace programme in Rwanda act as mentors. They encourage teachers to embrace innovative teaching techniques.


    Schools set up by the Aegis Trust serve as training centres. These are places where academic staff, parents, and community members can meet.



    Ladies and Gentlemen,


    Poland hopes that granting the Lemkin Award to the organization will support these educational efforts based on peace values.


    It is my honour to present this Rafał Lemkin International Award to the Aegis Trust, which is represented by its founder and CEO Dr James Smith and by Mr Freddy Mutanguha, its Africa Representative. This Award has been awarded in recognition of the organisation’s achievements in the field of preventing genocide. 


    Please accept my sincere congratulations.


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