Student Leadership Initiative, Africa

Seven members of SMU’s recently formed Student Leadership Initiative (SLI) are in Rwanda, Uganda and Johannesburg during May 2012. The students are researching human rights issues and empowerment solutions for three African countries recovering from decades of genocide, war, famine, disease and apartheid. Pat Davis, associate director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, is accompanying them on the program.

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The world stood by

An update from Michael, a junior majoring in philosophy, English and political science:

The Rwandan genocide swept through the country so quickly and completely that nothing was spared from its wrath. Even the holiest of places here, the Christian churches, became sites of unfathomable slaughter. During previous bouts of ethnic violence leading up to the 1994 genocide, churches were safe havens for the persecuted and the hunted. That disappeared with the systematic annihilation of the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda by the Hutus.

One such site we visited today was an absolute deathtrap. Nothing we found there was joyous. The site is called Ntarama, and over 5,000 people were killed there at one time. There were many people inside the church, in the kitchen off to one side and in the Sunday school. Because bullets were limited for the Hutu killers, grenades were hurled at the buildings in order to destroy the structure and those inside.

The damage to the church is clearly obvious, with huge holes blown through the church walls, but the killing is not apparent until one enters the church. Piled everywhere and hanging from the ceiling are the clothes of genocide victims. The dirty, ragged and bloody clothes create a haunting reminder of what no longer fills them. It is like the people just disappeared.

But the bones of many of the victims remain. Skulls, femurs and other bones line the walls on shelves so that people can see how they were killed. It is grotesque, morbid, haunting even, but I think that the display is wholly justified for its attempt to show the world what atrocities happened here in Rwanda.

In the kitchen, many people were burned alive, and the clothes of the victims still remain where they fell in piles of ash and charred remains. This place does not change. It will always be a site that stands as a memorial to the dead and a reminder of what every human being is capable of doing.

No one was safe, and the world stood by and watched as well over a million people were killed because of their ethnicity in three months in this country. Visiting these sites is a stark reminder of the failures of the international community, our own failures as members of that community, and the consequences of hate bred from differences between people. We should always do more. Human life is too precious not to stop this from happening yet again.

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    One Response to The world stood by

    1. Denise says:

      What beautiful writing … thanks for sharing.

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