Samantha Power, Rwandan Genocide Survivors Address NCC Event

Samantha Power, Rwandan Genocide Survivors Address NCC Event

>From “Carol Fouke” <[email protected]>
Date 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 threatened.

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 Genocide.

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 of terror.

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 Genocide.

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 children.

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

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

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 involved.”

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 Violence.

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; [email protected];
James N. Birkitt, Jr., Director of Communication of
the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, Los
Angeles, filed this report.