Tuesday night, the University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Center held an event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, the mass slaughter of the Tutsi people by the Hutu people which began April 7, 1994. Over the course of the next hundred days, nearly a million were killed and two million displaced, among countless other atrocities.
The evening began with a screening of a short film, entitled “Kwizera: A Story of Hope Born From Resilience.” The film was created by UConn students Sahil Laul, Kaitlyn Luft and Soumya Potu, and tells the story of Josiane Mumukunde-Alix.
Mumukunde-Alix was a Rwandan refugee who was originally displaced to Zambia before moving to the U.S. with her family and becoming a UConn student. Though she could not attend the event, Luft read a statement on her behalf.
“What can we do to stop today’s violence from becoming tomorrow’s tragedy?” She asked of the crowd.
This was followed by a lecture by Lorenz Riebling, a professor of history and theology at Boston College. Riebling’s foundation, the Laura and Lorenz Riebling Foundation, was the sponsor of the event. Riebling’s lecture discussed the Rwandan genocide in comparison to the Holocaust, Riebling’s area of study.
“Comparisons can tell us how and why society failed millions of victims,” said Riebling. “The presence of these survivors and their authentic stories gives us powerful reason for hope.”
Tharcisse Seminega, a professor of biotechnology at the National University of Rwanda in Butare and genocide survivor, then took the stage to give some opening remarks.
Seminega gave a short explanation of the historical context behind the genocide before being joined onstage by his wife, Chantal Seminega, and fellow survivors Charles and Angelique Rutaganira.
The survivors told their stories in their native language, which was then translated to the audience by Fidel Kazadi. In one especially harrowing story, Charles Rutaganira recounted being thrown to a mob of Hutu people after revealing that he was Tutsi. He was fortunately rescued by a neighbor, but not before being robbed and left on the street to die.
“Their eyes, they were really like vicious animals ready to jump on a prey. They just threw me outside, started hitting me; I still have those wounds,” said Rutaganira. “So I was laying down there for dead. Then an hour, two hours later, a group of them came back …They reached in my pocket and took my wallet.”
Liz Wimpfheimer, a seventh-semester allied health sciences major, originally attended the event for her Approach to Human Rights class. Wimpfheimer said she valued how their stories highlighted the progression of the genocide, and how societies should be aware of the risks.
“I thought the discussion of how the genocide happened was important,” Wimpfheimer said. “We should be aware of how easy it is to switch into that.”
In his book, “No Greater Love: How My Family Survived the Genocide in Rwanda,” Tharcisse Seminega said, “The purpose of writing this account is not to call the past to memory, which is sometimes a heartbreaking exercise.”
“I would feel guilty if I forgot such an atrocity, which could easily be repeated. I will never forget, but I will make it a lifetime commitment to never allow such a thing to happen again,” Tharcisse Seminega wrote.
Grace McFadden is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.