The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide

This guest piece is by Ruth Gonazalez, a junior at Miami Dade College studying Journalism.  The views represented here do not necessarily represent the views of STAND.

Everyone knows what happened twenty years ago in a small nation in Central Africa. Over 800,000 men, women and children were murdered in a period of three months. Their only crime was of belonging to the wrong ethnicity, and in some cases, the wrong political faction; in other words, being Tutsi or a moderate Hutu. The extremists waited for their cue in beginning their murderous mayhem that swept the entire nation of Rwanda. After the President’s plane was shot down by unknown assailants on April 6th, the Hutu extremists began killing without mercy while most of the world stood on the sidelines. One of the most shameful aspects of the tragedy was the US demand for the withdrawal of the remaining UN force that was left behind and their refusal to intervene, along with the rest of the world.

Despite all of the horror throughout the genocide and the betrayal of the international community, it is easy to forget the few examples where acts of humanity took place. Carl Wilkens, for instance, was the only American civilian who stayed during the genocide. Mr. Wilkens and a colleague saved hundreds of orphans who would have been killed. Another example is of Capt. Mbaye Diagne, an unarmed UN observer from Senegal. In the early hours of the genocide, he defied orders to stay neutral and single-handedly rescued hundreds of lives by shuttling civilians to and from UN safe sites. Tragically, he was killed on May 31st and the exact number of lives he saved remains a mystery.

Other examples include the fearless aid workers treating the wounded and the small group of UN peacekeepers, with limited resources who somehow[S9] managed to save thousands. These men and women have set examples of heroism, courage, and humanity. They have set the bar on how to respond to a crisis and we can only hope that others will follow suit in current conflicts (Central African Republic, Congo, and Syria to name a few). In the FRONTLINE documentary Ghosts of Rwanda , Mr. Wilkens said that all of us have the potential to do good and evil. This was the case during the genocide in Rwanda where people chose to do acts of evil and kindness.

This April, we need to honor the 800,000 lives that were lost, the thousands of survivors who endured the trauma and have had the resilience to rebuild, and of course, we have to honor the brave individuals who stayed and did everything possible to save lives.

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