Sunday, April 19, 2009

Faces of Genocide

The words and photographs in newspapers and magazines tell a distant story about the realities of genocide. Behind the statistics there are fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters. The living victims, the survivors, are left helpless, scarred with horror and tragedy. 

"Those who survive genocide don't know how to live," said Ester Murawajo, Tutsi survivor of the genocide in Rwanda and founder of Association of Widows of Genocide in Rwanda (AVEGA). "We are no longer someone's sister, someone's daughter, someone's wife; we have a completely emotional void." 

At the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Intolerance and Democracy, and on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention, we heard the personal stories of two genocide survivors, Murawajo and Ahmad Ibrahim Diraige, Head of National Redemption Front Alliance of Darfur rebel groups, and former governor of Darfur.

Murawajo lost all but her daughter between April - July 1994. "The only mistake, the only 'sin' we committed was being born Tutsi. We had no rights; we did not have a right to be defended, to be represented." 

Persecuted in her own country and dismissed by the international community,  there was nothing left and no one to help rebuild what had been lost. 

Fifteen years later she wants to apologize for her anger, but she can't. What is being done today? What has been done in 15 years? What is the international community doing for people who miraculously escaped the indiscriminate killings?  "I want to be safe. I want stability for my people. I want to know where my family was buried so I can find comfort in giving them a proper burial." 

She challenged us to leave the conference with concrete proposals and to implement them. "It's not just a talking game. It's important for us to point out world responsibility."

Ahmad Ibrahim Diraige echoed Murawajo's passionate language as he spoke about ending the war in Darfur."We are struggling, struggling to get somewhere, and we have gotten nowhere." 

He began to cry as he told us the Darfurians need to be protected and freed. The top left corner of the conference center erupted into a chant, "Justice! Justice! Justice! Justice for the people of Sudan!" Again and again they chanted in support of Ibrahim Diraige's important message until he wiped his tears and could continue addressing the audience.

Ibrahim Diraige, "Why are we not accepted by international communities? Why is this happening to us?"

Top left corner, "Justice! Justice! Justice!"

Ibrahim Diraige, "We are human beings." 

Everyone: Applause.

We witnessed firsthand the broken lives of genocide victims who urged us to act as responsible citizens by taking action. 

We are inspired on the eve of the UN Durban Review Conference. Taking action is progress; inaction is apathy and makes us vulnerable to those advocates who have less benevolent motivations and agendas.  

Chair Irwin Cotler, Counsel for genocide victims and dissidents, closed the session with two words we so often hear and hope someday will be irrelevant, "Jamais plus." (Never again.)  

Editorial in The Denver Post, Sat., April 18:



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