Genocide in the 20th Century

The skulls and bones of 9,000 of the unknown number of people who were murdered by the Khmer Rouge government at Cambodia's notorious Killing Field during the late 1970s are now on display on shallow shelves in a 16-storey stupa, or traditional Bhuddist memorial structure. The skulls at the front left and front centre indicate how these people died -- one from a gash, probably inflicted by a machete, and one from a bash from a blunt instrument. About a quarter of Cambodia's seven million people died at the hand of the murderous regime. Photo by Don Cayo

Listening to Jean de Dieu Hakizimana talk is an experience that leaves you feeling like you are from another world. He can't imagine a God who stops crying, and after you hear the kind of things he has seen and lived through, you can't either. Touched by personal tragedy - the genocidal murder of his parents and six siblings, imprisonment, and torture - Rwandan genocide survivor Hakizimana now carries the burden of human suffering on his shoulders, and when he speaks, it is for all of the victims of genocide, rape, tribal war and acts of terror whose own voices have been and continue to be silenced. On October 2nd, Hakizimana will join other speakers to share the untold stories of war at Trinity Western University's upcoming lecture on Genocide in the 20th Century.

What most North Americans know about genocide is limited to what they have watched on television or seen in movies like "Hotel Rwanda" or "Shake Hands with the Devil." These images are shocking, and evoke the appropriate response of disbelief, outrage, anger, and awe. But spend fifteen minutes listening to Hakizimana speak about a hatred that runs "so real in [the] blood," a nation where, "the guy with the guns is more important than the doctor," and it becomes apparent that genocide is not something that can be put in the past.

Genocide is a reality that is relived over and over again. Vancouver Sun columnist and speaker at the event Don Cayo notes in a recent article that "genocides and other mass murders in the 20th century have claimed more lives than all modern-day wars combined." The numbers are staggering. According to Genocide Watch, an organization dedicated to the "International Campaign to End Genocide," in the last half century alone acts of genocide have claimed the lives of over 2 million Sudanese, 1 million Ethiopians, 550,000 Ugandans, 1 million Nigerians, 2 million North Koreans, 800,000 Afghans, 35 million Chinese, 500,000 Indonesians, 1.6 million Tibetans, 15 million Russians, and the list goes on. The numbers in this tally alone add up to over half the current population of Canada, but the victims of genocide are countless.

Even when the mass murders stop, the effects of genocide - poverty, disease, political unrest - continue for many years. According to UNICEF, in the years following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, 8.9% of the adult population is HIV-positive, over half of the population is under the age of 18, half of whom have no access to education, and 613,000 Rwandan children under the age of 14 are orphans.

The stark realities of genocide - that it occurs over and over again, and that its effects are felt long after the fighting stops - is why Trinity Western's newly formed student group the History, Political Science and International Studies Undergraduate Society (HPIUS) believes it is important to foster public awareness on genocide in the 20th century by allowing the stories of war to be heard. Planning for the event, HPIUS President Lydia Wytenbroek says, "I really believe that people's stories and experiences (especially in regard to genocide) must be told. I think if we look away, we might forget. And if you don't try to understand the past, we will end up reliving it."

Dr. Robynne Healey, the Trinity Western History professor sponsoring the event, speaks to the importance of hearing the often silenced voices of war crime victims, like Hakizimana: "In the case of genocide where there has been an attempt to eradicate a particular group, the stories validate the experience of those who have been robbed of the opportunity to tell their stories themselves. The first step in forgiveness and reconciliation," she adds, "is acknowledgment of the act itself."

Event at a glance:
Event: Panel Discussion on Genocide in the 20th Century
Date: Thursday October 2nd 2008
Time: 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Block Hall (Neufeld Science Center)
Cost: Free of charge. Refreshments to follow.

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C. is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers undergraduate degrees in 40 major areas of study ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology and leadership, and offers interdisciplinary studies in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Biblical Studies, Biology and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.

 

Last Updated: 2008-10-07
Author: Laura Ralph