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My wife, Lorna, had already shared with conference participants the experience of her father, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, when we noticed a small group of welldressed young adults sitting in the audience.
We introduced ourselves during the lunch break and discovered that they were the officers of an organization of Rwandan orphans Association des Orphelins Chefs de Menages AOCM who were heading households of their surviving siblings.
They were among the lucky few who survived in when at leastTutsi were killed by Hutu extremists in a period of days. There was an instant bond between these young adults and Lorna, whose father had lost seven of his family members in They wanted to know how her father had coped with this tragedy and what affect it had on Lorna, the daughter of a survivor.
These questions appropriately fit with the title of the conference, which was Life after Death. Collectively as conference participants, we were struggling with the fact that the 20th Century was one of the bloodiest periods of human history.
What are the causes of genocide? How can genocide be prevented? And what is our obligation to survivors?
This last question hit both of us especially hard when we returned home to California a week later.
We could not get out of our minds the images we witnessed in Rwanda. On the fourth day of the conference we visited a genocide memorial in Murambi, several hours drive from Kigali. An entire school had been transformed into a permanent testimony to the massive killing by Hutu Power militants.
In classroom after classroom, the skeletal remains of bodies were laid out on tables, side-by-side and end-to-end. There were the bones of small children, the crushed skulls of adults, and one could even see the cut Achilles tendons on victims who had been immobilized so that their attackers could return to finish them off.
Within hours, government soldiers and extremist Hutu were killing Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The local radio station began broadcasting names, addresses and even license plate numbers of targeted victims.
Roadblocks were set up. Individuals carrying Tutsi identification cards were killed on the spot. This is a genocide that could have been prevented, but there was no political will by the international community to do so.
Consequently, one of the first acts by Hutu militants was to kill 10 Belgian United Nations soldiers. They knew that this act would put the foreign powers on the run. United Nations officials and individuals in the US State Department were careful to avoid the word genocide, because that would obligate them to take action.
It was only in retrospect, after 85 percent of the Tutsi population had perished, that President Clinton and other heads of state acknowledged their complicity in Rwanda.
But I m not sure that their apologies offered much comfort to the survivors, such as the members of AOCM, who had seen their parents slaughtered like animals, their homes burned to the ground, and their mothers and sisters sexually violated.
If the watchword for the international community was guilt, the feeling that dominated Lorna s consciousness was empathy. He had survived in as a result of missionaries and members of international aid organizations gathering up orphans at the end of World War I.
Claudine invited us to her home where she was caring for 10 siblings and children of relatives. By the dim light of a lantern we heard her story which was so painful that at one point she asked the children to leave.
We also interviewed Napthal. He had lost everyone in the genocide, but now was supporting several neighbor children who were in school. As we struggled with our response to these orphans, an idea gradually began to emerge.
It is the main outcome of a four day workshop, facilitated by Helvetas, during which twenty-two leading practitioners representing governments, research, academia, the private sector, NGOs and donors shared their experiences and developed a.
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