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April 7, 2014

Rwanda – 20 years later

Today, we commemorate the lives of over 800,000 Rwandans murdered twenty years ago during that country’s terrible genocide.  On this day of reflection, Humanity United’s employees offer their thoughts:

This day is one of remembrance and mourning for nearly a million people lost in just one hundred days. Hand in hand, I will also remember the hope that was the most striking feature of the Rwanda I lived in seventeen years later – an outlook shared by survivors and other Rwandans of optimism and faith, rather than anger or fear. It’s this hope – for a future of unity, where “never again” is something closer to a reality – that grounds me in my work. I want to be at least a small part of the collective attempt to prevent the horror of Rwanda in 1994 from erupting again.

–Mia Newman


Although I was immersed in working Middle East issues at the State Department, as stories slowly built over the course of April and May, 1994, I remember my horror swelling.  Having personally witnessed the iron boot of oppression in the townships around Durban during the apartheid era, it was easy to imagine mass atrocities though modern technology.  The widespread use of machete and other personal implements of war, killing thousands and thousands of people in such a short space, shocked me into disbelief.  The deaths of the 100’s of thousands of Rwandans continue to both sadden me and to reverberate across the decades, affecting the survivors and the new generation trying to rebuild their reality. 

–David Abramowitz


I was a political science student 20 years ago, passionate about human rights but regrettably unaware of what was going on in Rwanda. We all were. Thankfully, today we have incredible tools not only at our disposal to inform, engage and expose human rights abuses, we also have doctrines like the Responsibility to Protect, institutions like the International Criminal Court, and even the possibility of Millennium Development Goals that speak to the right to peace and security for every human being. Tragically however, a lot has NOT changed – there are still unspeakable atrocities taking place around the world today. As we remember Rwanda, we must accept our responsibility to ensure that it never happens again. 

–Nina Blackwell


Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, preventing future atrocities remains our foreign policy’s most evocative challenges. The failure of the international community to foresee and respond to the unfolding genocide in Rwanda, in addition to ongoing atrocities in Syria and elsewhere, motivated policymakers in the Obama Administration to develop a whole of government approach to prevent such crises. The interagency Atrocities Prevention Board serves as the centerpiece of these efforts to create new tools to better identify atrocities before the killing starts. Indeed, preventing genocide is everyone’s business, and it will take a multitude of actors and resources to truly live up to the promise of “never again.”

–Mary Stata


As a young congressional staffer in 1994, I received some of the frantic calls from U.S. citizens in and around Rwanda that spring.  I remember two missionaries, in particular, trying to communicate to me what was happening.  While their stories were intriguing, I did not understand their despair.  And, like so many in the federal government, I pushed their “concerns” up the chain and went on with my daily life.  Months later, the realization of what had happened hit hard.  I am thankful today to be working with an organization so dedicated to a more peaceful and less violent world.   

–Tim Isgitt


Photo: Adam Jones, Ph.D./Wikimedia Commons

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