December 24, 2012
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Arthemon Rurangwa, a Rwandan Tutsi, had about 200 members of his immediate and extended family wiped out during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Neighbours or thugs that roamed the streets spreading death among the Tustsi killed his family with knives and machetes.
Rurangwa, who worked in a rental car company, escaped to neighbouring Burundi in the trunk of his boss' car. His wife and two children managed to escape thanks to a friend who hid them.
In the late 1990s Rurangwa came to Canada with his family and now works as a public relations officer for Corrections Canada. He has been unable to go back to his home country for a visit for fear of reliving the horror.
But in two years he may return to Rwanda with students and teachers from St. Thomas More Junior High.
The students have been learning about genocide and are interested in going to Rwanda to visit the killing fields and the museums dealing with the genocide.
Rurangwa told his story and a brief history of his country to a group of 75 students and teachers from St. Thomas More School at Annunciation Church. He was one of several speakers at a Dec. 13-14 conference organized by the school in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Genocide Education in London, Ont.
Rurangwa contends genocide is the result of hatred, a concept that is learned and not part of one's genetic makeup.
"You are taught to hate," he told students. "Don't let hate into your hearts because this is where it can lead."
Rwanda, he said, used to be a peaceful and united country ruled by a king. Tutsis and Hutus worked and lived together without even noticing their ethnic differences.
All that changed when the white settlers arrived in Rwanda and started brewing hatred between Tutsis and Hutus.
Among these were the White Fathers, a Catholic missionary order that arrived in 1900.
According to Arthemon, the White Fathers played one tribe against another, teaching everyone that the Hutus were "stupid" and that the Tutsi were naturally superior because of their sophisticated physical characteristics.
The Belgian colonizers followed the same strategy – that the Hutus were born to be ruled – and by the late 1920s they had replaced virtually every Hutu leader with a Tutsi, all the way down to the hillside captains.
This "bad legacy of discrimination" created deep resentment among the Hutus, who began seeing the Tutsi as their enemy, Rurangwa lamented.
The genocide of 1994, where nearly one million Tutsi were killed, was the culmination of longstanding ethnic tensions between the minority Tutsi, who had controlled power for centuries, and the majority Hutu, who had come to power in a rebellion in the early 1960s.
Hutu leaders who held positions at top levels of the national government planned the genocide. Alongside the military, primary responsibility for the killings rests with Hutu militias that had been organized for this purpose by some political parties.
"It's very easy to brainwash people," Rurangwa said of the thousands who took part in the genocide.
Under the leadership of Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda, the Rwandan Patriotic Front achieved victory over the Hutu-led government in July 1994 and effectively ended the Rwandan genocide.
In an interview, Rurangwa said he likes the policies of the current government, whose ultimate goal is to establish equality among Rwandans.
Speaker Rich Hitchens, who leads the Centre for Genocide Education, said the purpose of the conference was "to make students aware of their world and show them that there are things that they can do to make a positive difference."
Genocide is humanity's most pressing problem, he said. "About 250 million people were killed in the 20th century by governments."
This figure, he said, is six times the number of soldiers killed in every war in the 20th century.
"That's why many people call the 20th century the century of genocide and, in 2003, three years into the new millennium, we were right back at it in Darfur, Sudan, as if we'd learned nothing."
Student Hannah Zubot, 14, said now that she knows what genocide is all about she feels responsible for creating the conditions that would stop genocide in its tracks, such as promoting goodwill and peace. "All I know is we shouldn't be letting people die on our watch."
Holly Peacock said conditions for genocide are created when society doesn't accept certain groups within society. "We should learn to accept everybody for who they are and since we can't take back the past we should try to prevent genocide from happening in the future," she said.
Faith Johnson said the most important thing is to educate people around the world about genocide. "If people aren't aware, how can they help prevent genocide?"