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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Symposium to remember Rwandan genocide

Notre Dame’s Law School is hosting a symposium this Friday and Saturday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, a 100-day period where an estimated 800,000 innocent Rwandans were slaughtered by their fellow citizens over ethnic differences.

Genocide survivor Immaculee Mukantaganira, the symposium’s organizer, said she arranges events like this one at Notre Dame to ensure the memory of those lost in the genocide are not forgotten.

“I think there is a reason for me to surviving. It’s not for myself, but it’s to tell the world that there were 1 million people who were killed that were innocent,” Mukantaganira said. “I wasn’t prayerful like my brother. I didn’t do good things to people [like] my brother. So why did I survive, not him? So I was like, ‘Maybe God knew that I would do this.’ … I think these people deserve justice, and the justice for them is for me and for other survivors to talk about them, to tell the world and to be instruments of peace.”

Throughout most of Mukantaganira’s childhood, Rwanda’s three ethnic groups — the Hutus, the Tutsis and the Twa — coexisted relatively peacefully. This all changed, however, when colonists began moving into the country and placing labels on the ethnic minorities.

Any illusion of peace that persisted was shattered April 6, 1994 when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu men, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. Hours later, the mass slaughter of Tutsis began.

During the genocide, Mukantaganira spent months fleeing the Hutus with her husband and newborn son. She and her husband were separated while hiding out in a house with other Tutsis when Hutu militia arrived.

The Hutu militia put Mukantaganira, her family and all the other Tutsis in a line, recorded each of their names and marched them into a nearby forest littered with the corpses of dead Tutsis and scored by the voracious barks of hungry dogs. One by one, the Tutsis were taken from the line and brutally murdered by the Hutus, who used only blunted machetes in the attacks.

When it was Mukantaganira’s husband’s turn in line, he decided to handle his fate using a different approach.

“I saw my husband running ’cause he had told me, ‘No one will kill me with a machete. I’d prefer that they shot me,’” Mukantaganira said.

He ran from the line, and Mukantaganira said she hoped dearly he would be able to make it to neighboring Burundi.

However, she would never be reunited with her husband, who she later discovered had been slaughtered in that very same forest.

Having survived these experiences, Mukantaganira said she acknowledges the importance of education in preventing genocide.

“I have talked to people who didn’t even know what is a genocide,” she said. “And for me, that scares me, because I never knew my country would get to a genocide until it happened to me. … When you are on this campus, if you want peace, get education. Get education. I will say and say again many times, get education so that you can use your critical thinking when you have to make some decisions.”

The symposium, organized in conjunction with the Rwandan American Community of the Midwest and the Peace Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, will feature a range of genocide authors, scholars and survivors collectively working to educate the public on the atrocities of genocide and ways in which societies can better equip themselves to battle these injustices.

Kizito Kalima, executive director of the Peace Center for Forgiveness & Reconciliation and fellow survivor of the genocide himself, echoed the same sentiment of using this blemish on history to better the world for future generations.

“If you don’t talk about it, we will forget about it,” Kalima said. “That’s how you prevent for the future massacres and teach people. People have to learn from our mistakes. … There’s no one else who came and killed us. We killed each other. So our goal is to teach the whole world to make sure that it doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

In promoting this mission, Kalima has made it his full-time commitment to ensure these lessons from the Rwandan genocide are heard by as many people as possible.

“I do this 24/7,” Kalima said. “That’s my full-time [job]. I used to work in the government, but for the last four years, I realized that genocide awareness has to be taught . ..because the genocide deniers, they’re 24/7 working trying to erase or delete all the memories.”

The symposium commemorating the genocide will commence 8:30 a.m. Friday morning in McKenna Hall, with an exhibition also on site for two days helping visitors visualize the atrocities. The event is free and open to the public.