04/08/2014 10:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rwanda Redux? We Can't Fail the World Again

"Never Again" declared a ribbon wrapped around a bouquet of flowers on mass grave at the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda.

This was my first stop on a trip to Rwanda three years ago. United to End Genocide just formed to mobilize action to stop or prevent genocide and mass atrocities. As its president, I wanted to learn more how the unspeakable horror of the Rwanda genocide was allowed to happen. How it could have been stopped? Better yet, how could it have been prevented?

I was deeply shaken as I toured the museum that exists to tell the story of the genocide. I had to sit down, not only because of to the enormity of the horror of what had occurred but because I had come face-to-face with my role in it! There was a display of the response from the international community to the steps to genocide. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

"My God", I thought, "I was a Member of Congress when this was going on. I was on the Armed Services Committee, serving on a team whose job it was to "whip" up support from my colleagues on pressing issues. Where the hell was I?"

The weight of this reflection continued as I came upon a wall of photos of victims, including many young children. Some were the age of my young son. Tears welled as I read of how they perished. Life went on here in Washington as usual while the march to mass murder unfolded. We ignored the warning signs and failed to act.

Almost three years later, we have failed in the battle of prevention. Places like Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria are suffering ongoing atrocities.

As the world marks that twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, we are making the same mistakes again. Men, women and children suffer and die not because of anything that they have done but because of who they are -- their ethnicity and the god that they pray to.

The world is marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide with events, statements and speeches. President Obama released a statement and there will be commemorations marking this dark anniversary in the U.S. House and Senate.

But I have a better idea. Let's act.

There are thousands of lives on the line right now -- lives taken because of bigotry, prejudice, hatred and cruelty. Lives lost with the full awareness -- and complicity -- of government officials.

I just returned from Burma after a month-long fact-finding trip. Nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today. I visited camps in Burma where many thousands of Rohingya Muslims are forced to live in. I was told that their only hope was that the international community -- particularly the United States -- will do something to save them.

There are specific things that the U.S. government can do and what we all should do. You can begin by calling your Member of Congress and ask them to support HR 418, a resolution calling for an end to the persecution of the Rohingya.

Or support other urgent actions including those on South Sudan, Sudan and Syria. In each of these raging conflicts the United States can and should do more.

Bobby Kennedy once told a group of young people from Soweto, South Africa:

"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Let us mark the anniversary of the Rwanda genocide by heeding the words of Bobby Kennedy. But let's not just make ripples to save the lives of innocent people under siege, let's make waves!