20 Years Later, Rwandan Genocide Still Educates, Moves Students

People in Rwanda and across the world solemnly commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide on Monday with ceremonies and vigils. In Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, a flame of remembrance torch arrived at the national genocide memorial, according to CNN.

At USC, students and faculty members participated in a vigil held by the USC Shoah Foundation Student Association (SFISA) in the courtyard of the University Religious Center. The event was part of the on-going Genocide Awareness Month.

“In 1994, Rwanda was divided, in 1994 the world was divided. When Rwanda was in turmoil we chose to look away,” said Greg Irwin, vice president of SFISA.

On April 7, 1994, one day after the plane that Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana — part of the Hutu ethnicity — was riding in was shot down, conflict between the ethnic groups of Hutu and Tutsis broke out. During the outbreak of violence, Hutu extremists in Rwanda targeted minority ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. According to The New York Times, more than 800,000 people died during the 100 days of violence. Many of the victims, who ranged from infants to the elderly, were killed with machetes, guns and other destructive weapons.

As participants in the vigil held candles, the planners from SFISA read four different testimonials of Rwandan survivors; these are survivors of one of the worst genocides in modern history. The readings were followed by a piano and violin performance and dance performance in honor of the victims but also in celebration of the unity that has been since the genocide ended in mid-July 1994.
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Many of the speakers at the vigil encouraged participants to learn more about the Rwandan genocide because students in the U.S. are not as exposed to the details surrounding it as other genocides that have taken place around the world.
There has been criticism regarding the lack of a timely response the international community had to ending the genocide, particularly by the United States and France.
Kelsey Harrison, a senior majoring in political science, said that the event inspired her and encouraged her to educate more people on the events that happened in the central African country twenty years ago.
“I think it’s a very serious event that happened in our past and doesn’t have a lot of recognition in our country,” Harrison said. “We must raise awareness in this country about how Rwandans have come back and about their strength and resilience.”
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