York conference focuses on Rwanda genocide

York University will host a conference Jan. 14-17 to commemorate Rwanda’s darkest days, while examining the causes of the humanitarian tragedy and exploring preventative measures.

“It is a well-known fact that the international community failed Rwanda then, and so one would think that in the wake of the genocide, a lot of soul-searching would have gone on in the hearts and heads of major global players,” says Ruth Kambali, a fourth-year student in York’s School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health, the conference organizer and a native of Rwanda.

Left: Throughout the Rwandan countryside, there are memorials for victims of the 1994 genocide, each contains thousands of skulls and bones

“However, flashpoints around the African continent, particularly the dire situation in Darfur, Sudan, seem to indicate that the important lesson of stepping in before a crisis evolves into a catastrophe is still not being heeded by the international community,” says Kambali.

The conference titled, “Lest we forget: Conference on Rwanda Genocide”, will feature experts who will address four distinctive themes about the genocide. The featured themes and speakers are:

  • Remember Rwanda: a representative from the Embassy of Rwanda in Ottawa.
  • To Intervene or Not: Egide Karuranga, a professor from Virginia State University and a survivor of the Rwanda genocide; Peter Penz, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies.
  • Politics of Reconciliation: Gerald Caplan, a scholar of African history at the University of Toronto, who has done extensive research into the Rwanda genocide. In 2000, he wrote a report on the subject, titled "Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide", for the Organization of African Unity’s International Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda.; Fatuma Ndangiza, executive secretary of the National Unity & Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda; Barbara Coloroso, an internationally-recognized speaker and parenting expert with several bestselling books to her credit, including her most recent publication, Extraordinary Evil: Why Genocide Happens (Viking Canada, 2007).
  • Healing Rwanda: Nancy Johnston, a professor in York’s School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health; Regine King, PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and a native of Rwanda; Lily Yeh, an American artist and founder of Barefoot Artists Inc., an arts organization based in Philadelphia which uses the power of art to transform impoverished communities.

Kambali hopes the conference will motivate people to recommit to the intervention of genocide throughout the world by advocating for voiceless people, and help to bring to justice those who are found guilty of the Rwanda genocide.

“A proactive world is the only way we can honour the victims of the Rwandan genocide,” says Kambali.

The event also spotlights a variety of cultural activities, including a performance by well-known Montreal comic book author Rupert Bazambanza, who is a Rwanda genocide survivor. As well,there will be an exhibition of genocide survivors’ stories.

“Lest we forget: Conference on Rwanda Genocide” will take place in the Founders Assembly Hall, 152, Founders College, on York’s Keele campus, from 4 to 7pm, Monday to Thursday. For more information about the conference, visit http://www.yorku.ca/mcl/.