OGDEN, Utah – International scholars will join the Weber State University campus community for a three-day conference, “Rwanda 20 Years After: Memory, Justice and Recovery in the Shadow of Genocide,” March 28-30 in the Lindquist Alumni Center and the Shepherd Union Building.
This international, interdisciplinary conference will take a scholarly approach in analyzing and discussing the Rwandan tragedy. Registration for the conference is $140. The cost includes access to 11 panel sessions, networking time with scholars and presenters, and continental breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
Stephanie Wolfe, WSU professor of political science, organized the conference after attending the “18th Commemoration of the Genocide Against Tutsis in Rwanda,” held in Washington D.C. “It was both incredibly moving and educational,” Wolfe said. “As we are coming up on the 20th anniversary, I wanted to engage the local community and students in a similar way.”
The conference has attracted 50 students, national and international scholars and leaders. Minister Counsellor Jeanne d’Arc Byaje of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda to the United Nations will present the opening remarks for the conference.
“Decades after these events — even after genocide and crimes against humanity became more common terms — horrific crimes are still being committed in the name of the state,” Wolfe said. “The Rwandan genocide was only 20 years ago, and it’s a vital part of modern history. It clearly demonstrates how the words ‘never again’ fail to stop atrocities due to a lack of political will and how human rights are overlooked in the name of national interest.”
Professor of anthropology at the University of Louisville, Jennie E. Burnet, is the keynote speaker. Her research interests include gender, ethnicity, race, war, genocide and reconciliation in post-conflict societies. Her geographical specialty is Rwanda, Burundi and the African Great Lakes region.
The conference will provide a wide range of topics from a variety of disciplines. “We have lawyers and poets in the same conference,” Wolfe said. “It will illustrate that we both can hope for the future and mourn the past.”
While registration is required for the panels, two events are free and open to the public. Carl Wilkens, an American who remained in Rwanda during the crisis, will speak March 28 at 7 p.m. in Shepherd Union Ballroom B.
As head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Wilkens negotiated with government leaders to help save more than 400 people during the genocide. He has spent the last nine years speaking to groups about his experiences and book, “I’m Not Leaving,” which documents his story of humanitarian work in a war zone. The book will be for sale at the lecture.
“As the only American to stay in Rwanda, Wilkens saved hundreds of lives,” Wolfe said. “How many more could have been saved if the peacekeeping forces — who were pulled out — had stayed?”
Jacqueline Murekatete, a genocide survivor, will speak March 31 at 12:30 in Elizabeth Hall Room 229.
Murekatete was 9 years old when the violence broke out. All her immediate family and most of her extended family were killed during the course of the 100-day mass slaughter from April to July of 1994. With the encouragement of a Holocaust survivor Murekatete met at a high school lecture, she began to publicly share her own experiences as a genocide survivor. She is now a human rights and genocide prevention activist.
Wolfe, who is heavily involved in Amnesty International, hopes to instill in students a sense of service and broader interest in human rights. “I would like to make a difference in the world and help my students find their opportunities to help as well,” she said.
Wolfe will lead a study abroad trip to Rwanda in May and June. The 35-day trip will allow students to tour Rwanda, visit historical sites and interact with Rwandan students. They will also explore peace building, transitional justice and democracy promotion.
“I want students to realize what happened,” Wolfe said, “to understand the price of inaction, but also to understand how even one individual can truly make a difference when they stand up and say, ‘No more.’”
Visit continue.weber.edu/rwanda to register for the conference and see the full schedule.
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