Students at Brooke Weston learned about the Rwandan genocide, as part of their Beliefs, Philosophy and Ethics studies. They heard about the events that took place 20 years ago when up to a million men, women and children were systematically slaughtered. At the time Rwanda had a population of around 7 million comprising the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa ethnic groups.
As social, economic and political pressures within the country grew the Hutu, which made up around 85 per cent of the population blamed the minority Tutsi, who numbered 14 per cent. The president’s plane was shot down, killing all on board, which provided the catalyst for the genocide, which was planned by government and military leaders. The Tutsi were hunted down and killed in their homes, churches and schools, by those who had been their neighbours. Anyone opposed to, or unwilling to take part in the killings also became victims of the genocide. By the end of the reign of terror, that lasted for a hundred days from April to July 1994, it is estimated that between 800,000 and a million people perished. The international community was criticised for ignoring earlier warnings about the planned conflict and for not intervening.
Two decades later the genocide is being marked by the Kwibuka20 campaign. It seeks to commemorate the victims, unite the population through reconciliation and renew the country. Today Rwanda is said to be one of the safest places in the world with a growing economy and bright future.
Balbir Sohal, a volunteer for the National Holocaust Centre spoke to students at Brooke Weston. She outlined the key factors leading to any genocide which begins with abusive language, then progresses through avoidance, active discrimination, physical attack and extermination.
She said: ‘The aims are that students know something about Rwanda and the Rwandan genocide which happened 20 years ago. The Rwandan government have got a programme called Kwibuka, which is ‘Remember, Unite and Renew’. 80 per cent of the young people in the UK don’t know anything about the Rwanda genocide so it is about awareness-raising. It is also about what they can do in their schools to take this further, like doing a presentation, an assembly or maybe raising funds for the Rwandan survivors. We want to upload a million comments onto the website so that people in Rwanda can see that they are not forgotten.
‘With the advent of social media it is being aware of those issues and it is also about young people taking what they have learned and perhaps doing something with it in student-led action. The students have been brilliant, they have asked some very good questions and have been very responsive.’