From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Samantha Power, Rwandan Genocide Survivors Address NCC Event
"Carol Fouke" <email@example.com>
Mon, 26 Apr 2004 18:24:27 -0400
For Immediate Release
Samantha Power, Rwandan Genocide Survivors Address NCC"s April 23
By James N. Birkitt, Jr., for the NCC
April 23, 2004, LOS ANGELES - A commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the
Rwandan Genocide, held here today and sponsored by the National Council of
Churches USA, recalled the horror of the genocide and offered a word of
counsel and hope - genocide can be prevented.
Keynote speaker was Samantha Power, recipient of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for
her book "'A Problem from Hell': America and the Age of Genocide," which
focuses on the failure of America, other Western governments and the United
Nations to respond effectively to genocide.
Power called on United States to redefine its "Evital interests" to include
genocide. Currently, long-standing American policy permits military
intervention only when America's security or economic well-being is
Another positive step, she said, "would be for the U.S. to replace its "all
or nothing" diplomatic approach with a continuum of responses and options
that may stop genocide before it occurs. The failure of the U.S. government
to act is always an implicit signal to other governments as well as a green
light to the perpetrators of genocide."
Power noted that such actions would be necessary to prevent a repetition of
this horror in Sudan. She pointed out that even the slightest condemnation
by the U.S. Government of policies of the government in Khartoum results in
the easing up of hostilities.
An eclectic gathering of religious leaders, educators, public policy experts,
students and activists attended the event, titled "Remembering Rwanda: Ten
Years After The Genocide." Held at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, the
April 23 event featured presentations by genocide experts, testimonies by
survivors, and the premiere showing of a documentary film on the Rwandan
The 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the result of escalating violence between Hutu and
Tutsi peoples, began in April 1994 and led to the murder of more than 800,000
Hutu and moderate Tutsi, and the rape of 250,000 Hutu women, during 100 days
Power's research on the world's failure to intervene in Rwanda notes that the
response of the United States and other Western countries is shaped by
decisions made prior to the start of genocide, rather than in response to it.
She also noted that a series of missteps and mixed signals by the United
States and the United Nations emboldened the perpetrators of the Rwandan
In her remarks, Power highlighted ways future genocides might be prevented.
In addition to calling on the U.S. government to expand its definition of
"vital interests" to include prevention and intervention in genocide, Power
called on journalists to focus world attention on genocide, encouraged faith
communities to raise their voices, and suggested governments note "the early
warning signals that are always part of the cycle of genocide, including
smaller massacres that serve as trial balloons to test international response
and the demonizing of specific groups by the government or the media."
Power also called on governments to find new ways to conduct diplomacy.
"Diplomats are so conditioned to be diplomats that they consistently offer
conventional responses in the face of unconventional horrors. Governments
must replace the pantomime of response with robust, effective responses."
The NCC event included the premiere of "God Sleeps In Rwanda," a documentary
by filmmakers Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman. The film highlights ways
genocide decimated Rwandan families, destabilized the culture, and
contributed to the dramatic increase of HIV and AIDS among Rwandan women and
During his remarks, Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council
of Churches, noted, "It is important that we remember what we failed to do,
and that includes churches and church people. We must ask forgiveness for our
silence. Those of us in faith communities must honor God's call to love and
care for the least of our brothers and sisters."
Dr. Richard Hrair Dekmejian, an expert on the Armenian Genocide and professor
of political science at the University of Southern California, noted that
despite the current international focus on terrorism, "Terrorists have killed
relatively few people when compared with genocide."
Dekmejian, noting the NCC program was being held on the eve of the 89th
anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, called for a three-point commitment by
faith communities and people of conscience to "bring the perpetrators of
genocide to justice, work for compensation for its victims, and influence
governments to prevent and intervene in future genocides."
Gerry Caplan, founder of the international coalition Remembering Rwanda,
suggested four groups who must be remembered one decade after the Rwandan
Genocide: "those who died; the victims who survived; the perpetrators, most
of whom were never brought to justice; and the international community, or
more accurately, international bystanders, who actively chose not to get
Caplan laid broad blame for the failure to intervene in the Rwandan Genocide
on parties including churches within Rwanda, the governments of the United
States and Europe and the United Nations.
Also participating in the program was Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, Executive
Director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. Rabbi Freehling
closed the program with words from the Hebrew prophets exhorting all people
to love their fellow human beings.
Two Rwandan Genocide survivors vividly described the destruction of entire
villages and towns, the use of rape as a tool of genocide, the mass psychosis
of genocide, and the lasting impact on survivors. In a powerful and moving
moment, one survivor said, "I recently looked through my photo albums of my
friends and family from Rwanda - and realized that everyone in those photos
is dead. Except for me. I am called to bear witness."
The "Remembering Rwanda: Ten Years After The Genocide" commemorative event
was held as part of the World Council of Churches' Decade To Overcome
Reflecting after the event, Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, the NCC's Associate
General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace, commented that "What
was quite compelling was Samantha Power's assessment that the lessons of
Rwanda could be applied today to prevent another tragedy in Sudan. If we
have learned anything as an international community from our various
commemorations of the Rwandan Genocide, it is that we must apply these
lessons to situations that come before us. Otherwise, we will be resigned to
saying yet another time, 'Never again!'"
NCC Media Liaison: Carol Fouke, 212-870-2252; firstname.lastname@example.org;
James N. Birkitt, Jr., Director of Communication of the Universal Fellowship
of Metropolitan Community Churches, Los Angeles, filed this report.
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