AUGUSTA — The Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of nearly 1 million people. And while the small African nation continues to suffer the scars, it has largely been forgotten in the west.

That’s the motivation behind Saturday’s “Walk to Remember.” The Holocaust & Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta, which is hosting the event, aims to shine a spotlight on the genocide to remind those who have forgotten and teach those who never knew about those 100 days of bloodshed.

“We’re hoping we can create some awareness,” said Robert Bernheim, executive director of the center. “A lot of people know about the Nazi Holocaust, but they aren’t so familiar with others, particularly those that have happened recently.”

The Rwandan genocide led to the deaths of 800,000 people between April and June 1994. The violence was primarily carried out by extremist Hutus who used everything from guns to farm implements to murder Tutsis and moderate Hutus who spoke out against the violence.

Another half-million Tutsi women and girls were raped, according to humanitarian watchdog groups. As a result, thousands of Rwandans were infected with HIV, and as a result, about 10 percent of Rwandans have the virus that causes AIDS.

A Walk to Remember, which is scheduled for 9–11 a.m. Saturday, began last year after Rwandan native Juste Gatari, a student at UMA, had an internship at the Holocaust Center. Part of his responsibility included sharing his story at area schools. It was the most Gatari had talked about the genocide that affected members of his family, Bernheim said.

Gatari and fellow UMA student Eric Habineza, also a Rwandan native, will share their stories again on Saturday.

The schedule also includes an airing of the film “As We Forgive.” Many who perpetrated the crimes have been released back into the community by overwhelmed courts, and Hutu killers live and work next to Tutsis whose family members were killed, and the documentary looks at efforts to foster healing and forgiveness. It focuses on the story of two women who confront the men who murdered their families.

Gatari will graduate this year, but Bernheim said the center plans to make the commemorative walk an annual event.

In the process, he hopes people will remember that one need not search deep into the history books to see the stains of genocide.

“We hope it’s educational,” Bernheim said Saturday’s program. “We hope it’s a way to serve as a reminder.”
 


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