By Howard Lesser

Voice of America
April 1 2009

In April of 1994, when 800-thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus were
murdered in a spasm of ethnic violence that is today recognized as
a genocide, Rwanda had limited visibility with the general public
and on the foreign policy agendas of the United States and other
countries. Years later, survivors are gathering to observe the 15th
anniversary of the slaughter that was carried out in 1994. Genocide
Prevention Month is being marked this week in Washington and other
American cities by survivors of major genocides that coincidentally
all took root in various years during the month of April -- in Darfur,
Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, the European Holocaust, and Armenia. Rwandan
survivor Eugenie Mukeshimana, a participant in the program, says that
lessons learned from the volatile conditions of that period influenced
her determination to share and teach others about it.

"It's time for reflection. It's time to look back and find out what
happened with all these different genocides. It's holding discussions,
forums where people can learn more about the nature of the crime of
genocide, and hopefully, that people will at the end of the month
be more willing to commit themselves, whatever way they can, to join
forces and try to do some work, whether it be in prevention or helping
the people who still are in great need," she said.

Mukeshimana, an ethnic Tutsi who now lives in the United States and
serves as a social worker in the northeastern state of New Jersey, was
22 in April 1994 and six months pregnant. She was able to evade Hutu
extremists and survive the war by hiding in a succession of safe houses
and with friends in Kigali during the three months of terror. Though
her husband, Damascene, was slaughtered by machete-bearing Hutus,
Eugenie and her daughter held on long enough to see the Rwanda
Patriotic Forces (RPF) drive the extremists from the capital as the
carnage abated. She says she was able to maintain a positive outlook
because of concern for the child she was carrying and because of an
unfounded hope that a rescue force from outside Rwanda was on its
way to quell the massacre.

"One of the main supports that I had was actually to have a family
that helped me to hide. The second thing is that I was pregnant and
I didn't feel like I had the responsibility just for myself. I had
the responsibility for the child I was carrying as well. But also the
rumors that a military operation was on the way to come and help, and
I found out later that it was just a rumor. But when I first heard it,
I didn't know it was a rumor. So I would pretty much hang on one more
day, each day, hoping that somebody would get to us," she explained.

Although Rwandan Tutsis and Hutus have made great progress in
reconciling within the country, a military threat still exists in
neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, which has inherited an
outflow of Hutu fighters that continue to conduct hostile military
operations in northeastern Congo. Since 2003, however, the Rwanda
conflict has been largely overshadowed by the conflict in Sudan's
western Darfur region, which the US government officially recognizes as
a genocide. Mukeshimana acknowledges that Americans who are interested
in becoming seriously involved in conflict prevention activities
and learning about Darfur often refer to Rwanda when pointing out
the foot dragging that prevented the outside world from doing more
to help. But she maintains that much still needs to be done to get
Rwanda back on its feet.

"People have to keep in mind that just because the genocide was over
in Rwanda doesn't mean the lives of people -- you know, the problems --
have been solved. It takes time. Some of the trauma from the genocide,
some of the medical and physical needs, will manifest themselves
after quite some time. There is a lot of work that still needs to
be done. Survivors are still living under conditions that are not
up to appropriate. There are many needs that are not yet met. And,
of course, there's the reality that the genocide ideology is not
gone, even 15 years later. And we are also facing another issue,
that people are starting denying that this genocide actually took
place. As we try to recover and piece our lives together, you can't
fully recover when you're still faced with basic needs that are not
yet met and there are also people who are denying that this genocide
actually took place," she noted.

Hundreds of organizations allied with the anti-genocide coalition
are joining together to launch Genocide Prevention Month. Eugenie
Mukeshimana points out that a few hundred Rwandan survivors will gather
in New York next week on April 7, the actual date that the slaughter
began, to honor the memories of their relatives and friends. There will
also be memorial commemorations in Boston, San Francisco, Washington,
DC, and other US locations.