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SMC hosts panel to remember victims of Rwandan genocide

| Monday, April 27, 2015

Twenty-one years ago, Rwanda was plagued by a Hutu-led genocide against the Tutsi, two Rwandan ethnic groups. In honor of those who were killed and the families they left behind, Saint Mary’s Student Diversity Board (SBD) held a panel discussion Friday.

Senior Aneth Batamuliza, originally from Rwanda, introduced the panelists, who included President of the Rwandan Diaspora Network in U.S. and survivor Gaetan Gatete, survivor Kizito Kalima, President of the Global Diaspora Network Alice Cyusa, and Joint Appointment in Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies Ernesto Verdeja.

Each panel member shared stories on a specific topic, including their personal testimonies.

Gatete said there are many who will deny the genocide happened. They will claim the number of Tutsis killed is a lie or that the entire genocide never happened, but Gatete said it is important not to allow those who deny to affect how history is remembered.

“As we gather here beyond Rwanda’s borders, we must unite with the people of Rwanda,” Gatete said. “Especially with the survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, to renew our commitment to never again [allow] genocide in Rwanda or anywhere in the world. We must learn from what happened in Rwanda.”

Gatete said the Rwandan genocide impacted many people.

“It is [our] own children, to many of us, it is our parents, a mother or a father,” Gatete said. “It is our sisters and brothers. It is someone very dear to us. When we talk a million Rwandan killed in genocide, it is easy to think of genocide as one single act of barbarism. … The reality is that the genocide was made up of so many individual atrocities.”

Kalima offered his personal testimony of what it was like to be a teenager during the genocide. He ran away when the Hutu forces came and hid for three months, living off grass, dirty water and anything he could find.

“I call myself the luckiest because of what I’ve been through and what I was able to overcome,” Kalima said.

Kalima said he came to America on a basketball scholarship and has since dedicated his time to healing through helping other survivors, going as far as adopting two survivors he found who were alone in America and needed his help.

“I had everything, but I could not find happiness,” he said. “I decided to forgive those who hurt me, who abused my family. … I became a mentor to everybody.”

Cyusa focused on Kwibuka, which means “remember” in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s language. Kwibuka is also the name of a global initiative to remember those affected by the Rwandan genocide. She said Kwibuka is a time to remember and commemorate the lives of the people and loved ones affected by the genocide.

“We commemorate, we remember to give them a voice because they no longer have a voice. We speak for them,” Cyusa said. “Kwibuka is also a time to show solidarity with genocide survivors … and to support them and pray with them.

She also focused on the role of Rwandan women after the genocide.

“Rwanda did not choose to follow revenge,” Cyusa said. “The path of unity and reconciliation and peace-building, Rwandan women embarked on it 21 years ago.

“In Rwanda, women represent more than half the population. The genocide against the Tutsi left hundreds of thousands of women widowed and traumatized, and the fight for equality for those women actually became second to survival. There were thousands of women who were victims of rape, trauma and other unspeakable physical injuries. The majority of survivors of the genocide were women, experiencing serious economic deprivation.”

After the genocide, the government set up a special fund to help women and other survivors have access to healthcare, education and other necessities, Cyusa said. After the genocide, the government appointed women to positions of power and amended the constitution with a minimum requirement of 30 percent of women in all decision-making bodies. Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world today.

Verdeja said genocide is successful when the group that was targeted is finally forgotten, so it’s important to combat that idea.

“Denial must be confronted, first of all, by being very clear about the truth of what happened and being quite adamant and showing and teaching what were the factual events around genocide and its consequences,” Verdeja said.

Gatete closed the panel by reflecting on how far Rwanda has come since the genocide.

“After 1994, the journey of Rwanda is not just a journey of genocide. It is a journey of reconciliation,” Gatete said. “Rwanda is now a peaceful country, a beautiful country. The cleanest country in Africa, a country where every kid has access to primary school, a secular country, a country where people can walk day and night on the street. … A country where the economy is booming every single year, a country of good governance, a country of democracy, a country with 63 percent women in parliament. A country that is striving to become a model for Africa.”

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

Contact Nicole