Raise Awareness. End Genocide
April was Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month; a time when survivors, activists and advocates came together to commemorate past genocides, to call for action to stop ongoing genocides and to prevent the intensification of future conflicts. Commemorations for the genocides that scourged Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia Rwanda, Darfur and the Holocaust were held throughout the month of April. Each of these tragic events in history are recalled in order to honor the millions murdered in cold-blood, to remember the millions of people who have (and continue to be) devastated by the egregious crimes inflicted upon them and to commit the brutality to humanity’s memory so to incite preventative action when confronted with escalating conflicts.
This past month, more specifically, signified the 19th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide; the one-hundred day mass slaughter of ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. The 1994 genocide has held particular significance in genocide prevention discourse since, unlike any other genocide in the twentieth century, every step of the escalating ethnic conflict was documented by national media. And even though the genocide unfolded before the world’s eyes, there was no international intervention. The world sat idly by and watched as at least 800,00 people were massacred.
Broaching twenty years since the Rwandan genocide, real change in international response is expected. That is why we dedicated April to raising awareness to the genocide by highlighing our Rwanda survivors' stories in combination with a short we recently produced about the commemorative ceremonies held in Kigali, Rwanda. The genocide left millions without homes, without families and without faith in humanity. However, 19 years later, the Rwandan people have come together to reconstruct a better, stronger and more united society.
Last month, we had the honor of meeting Daphrose Mukarutamu, a Rwandan genocide survivor and the inspiration of the Duhozanya Association. Literally meaning ‘let us console one another,’ the Duhozanya Association brings Rwandans together to share in their common grief, mourn with one another and then overcome together. The organization serves thousands of members,including: widows, orphans, child-headed households, women victims of rape and women infected with HIV/AIDS. In an effort to help these victims rebuild their lives, the Association provides a spectrum of services. These primarily consist of emotional support groups, coping techniques for trauma victims and tools for economic empowerment. While there are still festering wounds for most (if not all) of these women survivors, Duhozanya provides a place of healing and hope and has helped many of these Rwandan women achieve political and economic self-sufficiency. Their ability to overcome the unthinkable and to triumph over adversity is demonstrative of the type of future Rwanda, and all nations that have been plagued by mass atrocities, has - one paved with strength and resilience.
We also had the privilege to attend the Commemoration of the Rwanda Genocide at the United Nations. During the ceremony, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:
Collectively, we must go beyond words and effectively safeguard people at risk. And individually, we must nurture the courage to care – and the resolve to act. Only by meeting these challenges can we match the resolve of the survivors and truly honour the memory of those who died in Rwanda 19 years ago.
Ban Ki-moon’s speech called for collective action today against modern-day atrocities. It is as obvious as it is unfortunate that innocent people continue to unnecessarily suffer in the twenty-first century. For over 60 years, the Tibetan people have been politically, culturally and religiously oppressed by the Chinese government. The cries of self-immolators, a form of Tibetan protest, remain ignored. The victims of the Darfur genocide continue to be denied justice as the Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, suspected to be responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, remains at large. Those who have survived Bashir’s wrath and the ongoing conflict have been indefinitely displaced, amounting to 1.4 million IDPs. In the last year, tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have been ruthlessly killed by the Assad regime. It is predicted that, left on its current trajectory, Syria will witness mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing that could amount to genocide in certain areas.
Even though we are no longer in the month of April, we must stay vigilant in our fight against human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. Out of the ashes of the genocide, Rwanda has, indeed, been able to make incredible progress towards a more peaceful and just society. However, if we take away only one lesson from this horrendous moment in history, it’s that innocent blood was spilt in a conflict that could have been avoided entirely.
This month, continue to educate yourself. Hear the testimonies of survivors of genocide and understand why this century must mark a no-tolerance policy towards atrocities.
Lunch in honor of Daphrose Mukarutamu
UN Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide