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Ten Years On, The World Must Learn From Rwanda

5 April, 2004
Ten years on, the world must learn from Rwanda

Ten years ago almost one million people were killed on the streets of Rwanda, and today aid agencies are asking themselves why the world ignored the genocide.

Helen Green, CEO of World Vision New Zealand, says that over a 100-day period from April 7 through to mid-July 1994, approximately one million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in the tiny Central African country.

"But the international community turned a blind eye. After Hitler, we all believed the world would never allow genocide to happen ever again. Yet only last decade almost a million people were killed because of ethnic hatred," she says. Mrs Green visited Rwanda in 2002, observing New Zealand-funded projects supporting orphans of the genocide, and even spoke to a group of over 1,000 genocide prisoners.

Ethnic division was rife in Rwanda for decades before 1994 and the Tutsis were a persecuted minority. The assassination of Hutu dictator, President Juvenal Habyarimana led to the mass killings as Hutu militants sought revenge.

Mrs Green says the United Nations was alerted to the genocide but took inadequate action until it was too late, only sending in peacekeeping troops in May 1994.

"I hope the international community did learn a lesson this time. We need to take action early and not palm genocide off as internal issues that have nothing to do with other countries," she says.

John Schenk, a World Vision communications manager, was among the first foreigners to enter Rwanda during the genocide. His original video footage helped break the news of the atrocities to the world.

While his video footage helped break the story, Schenk paid a personal price. Suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome, he had to leave Africa to receive counselling.

This week Mr Schenk returned to Rwanda for the first time since 1994, to commemorate the anniversary and to witness the country's continuing economic recovery and efforts towards political reconciliation.

Note: John Schenk is available for interviews from Rwanda. His original broadcast-quality video of the genocide is also available to news organisations. Please contact Liz MacIntyre 021 643 619 or 09 356 0718.

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