The Canadian Parliament on Monday unanimously adopted a historic private member’s motion on the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Brought by Rob Oliphant, the co-chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, the motion commemorates the 25th anniversary and “formally designate April 7th as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda”.
Immediately after the motion was adopted by the House of Commons, Canada’s lower house of elected parliamentarians, there was about a minute of applause as members stood up in ovation to the move.
It also puts the date April 7 on the parliamentary calendar, and will be observed every year in the Canadian House of Commons.
Lawmaker Oliphant is no stranger to Rwanda. In mid March, he was in Rwanda on a delegation of Canadian MPs. They met the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Donatile Mukabalisa, and other government officials.
The delegation also toured the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center where more than 250,000 victims are laid to rest.
Canada’s Governor General Julie Payette has been in Rwanda for a long visit which also involved taking part in the main commemoration event on Sunday April 7, also attended by the up to seven leaders and delegations from many countries.
Back in the Canadian parliament, what exactly does the motion adopted mean? Does it commit the country to anything? Is it a binding legal document?
The motion in Canada comes after the UN General Assembly in January last year also adopted a resolution designating April 7 as International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.
The resolution also Amended the “Title of Annual Observance”.
This basically means the UN would no longer refer to what happened in Rwanda in any other way as had been since 1994. It had been referred to in different forms including “Rwandan genocide”.
The government of Rwanda and campaigners have argued for years that using any other way to refer to the genocide was giving legitimacy to deniers and the negationist movement. The denial narrative falsely claims that just as Tutsis were killed by the interahamwe militia, the Hutus were targeted by the Rwanda Patriotic Front rebel movement.
With the resolution adopted in the UN General Assembly, the national governments have to follow suit to put in place the same mechanism to call the genocide in its real appellation.
It also means that it is an international crime to minimize the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi by using a different reference.
Canada is the first country where the country’s legislature has taken such move.
The pronouncement is only political but also reaffirms Canada backing for the fight against genocide, according to Peter Mazereeuw, Deputy editor of the The Hill Times, Canada’s main politics publication.
“The motion is only a political statement. It does not commit the Canadian government to anything,” he told The Chronicles, in an email.
However, the significance of it, he said is that, “It does show that Canadian Members of Parliament are, broadly speaking, still supportive of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”.
UN Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in December 1948 as General Assembly Resolution 260. It entered into force in January 1951 as an international legal instrument.
As the situation stands now, the motion in the Canadian Parliament is not a law on the books.
And since MP Oliphant is from the ruling Liberal Party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it indicates wide political backing for the motion.
That can change in case a new party is in power, just as the sitaution was under the previous government, which was not in any way bothered about Rwanda – despite push by Senator Gen Romeo Dallaire, who commanded UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide.
Reporting by Protais Mbarushimana and Fred Mwasa