Educating others about genocide

While visiting Rwanda, kids crowd around MU senior Melissa Urscheler as she demonstrates how to use a camera. Photo courtesy of Will Latta

By Melissa Urscheler

COLUMBIA — In April of 1994 in the central African nation of Rwanda, an ethnic genocide had just begun. In only 100 days, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people would die at the hands of their neighbors, death squads and the military, with the rest of the population to be subjected to violence, rape, displacement and fear.

Simultaneously, halfway around the world in Columbia, Rangira Béa Gallimore, who was teaching in the department of romance languages and literatures at MU, was looking for a way inside Rwanda, the country of her birth. She was eager to reach family members caught in what would become known as one of the worst genocides of the 20th century.

Gallimore eventually found a way in, but she was not able to find all of her family alive.

MU Professor Rangira Béa Gallimore’s organization Step Up! donated cows to ABASA members, a community of women who endured sexual violence during the genocide, in Butare, Rwanda. Melissa Urscheler/ Missourian
Haunted by the faces and stories of those she met during her visits to Rwanda and during her research, Gallimore was moved to do more for the survivors. In addition to helping form an organization to aid some of the thousands of women who were raped, widowed or contracted HIV throughout 1994, she ultimately wanted to educate others outside Rwanda on the anatomy of genocide. Her hope was that the international community would never again be able to use ignorance as an excuse for the complacency that allowed so many to die in Rwanda. So, during the summer of the 15th anniversary of the ethnic genocide, she began MU’s first study-abroad program to Rwanda. That was how we met.

For two weekends in June, I studied under Gallimore alongside seven other MU students from various backgrounds and majors. In July, we traveled to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, to study at the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center, which was co-founded by Gallimore. We were joined by students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, briefly, by students from the California Institute of the Arts.

During the two-week trip, we met with representatives from the government of Rwanda and the United States, military and nonprofit organizations and people whose families had been affected by the genocide of 1994. We also met people directly responsible for it. Here are a few of my memories from the trip that changed my life.

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1918 Rwanda-Urundi, a former German colony, is given to Belgium under the Treaty of Versaille.

1926 Ethnic identity cards are introduced in order to distinguish between Hutus and Tutsis.

1960 Belgian colonial rulers organize municipal elections. Hutus win.

1961 to 1962 Rwanda becomes an independent country.

Mid-1960s Half the Tutsi population is estimated to be living outside the country.

1967 Tutsis massacre begins.

1973 Tutsis are no longer allowed at universities and are restricted to 9 percent of paying jobs.

1975 The National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) is formed.

1986 Rwandan exiles form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

1989 Coffee prices collapse, creating a sever economic downturn in Rwanda.

1990 to 1991 The army begins to train civilian militias. The MRND stalls on creating a multi-party system. Tutsis are killed in many massacres. Opposition is persecuted.

February 1993 RPF renews fighting around Kigali, lasting for several months.

August 1993 The MRND and the RPF sign a peace accord, creating a coalition Hutu-RPF government. About 2,500 U.N. troops are deployed to oversee the return of the refugees.

September 1993 to March 1994 Militia training intensifies. MRND stalls on creating government. Extremist radio stations broadcast please to attack Tutsis.

April 6-7, 1994 The Rwandan and Burundi presidents are killed after their plane is shot down. The Rwandan army and militias start killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. U.N. forces stand by because intervening would break their mandate.

April 21, 1994 The U.N. reduces forces to 250 after the killing of 10 soldiers.

April 30, 1994 The U.N. Security Council condemns the killings but omits the word "genocide," releasing it from the obligation to protect civilians.

May 17, 1994 The U.N. agrees to send more troops with power to protect civilians and begins to use the word "genocide."

Mid-May 1994 The International Red Cross estimates that 500,000 Rwandans have been killed

Nov. 1994 A U.N. tribunal is created.

Jan. 10, 1997 The first trial comes before the tribunal.