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Holocaust Museum Officials Learn from Rwanda Massacre

Rows of human skulls and bones form a memorial to those who died in the 1994 massacre in Rwanda.

Rows of human skulls and bones form a memorial to those who died in the 1994 massacre in Rwanda.

Hello and welcome back to the program that helps you learn and improve your American English …and shows you our world …As It Is. I’m Jim Tedder in Washington. Today we turn the clock back 20 years to a time of horror in Rwanda.

Then we will look forward a day or so to elections in Afghanistan. There may be many young people helping to decide the country’s leaders. How do they feel about an often violent past, and hopes for the future?

And near the end, we’ll let you hear what America was listening to, 50 years ago this week. You are listening to VOA.

Twenty years have passed since hundreds of thousands of people were killed across Rwanda in just a few months. Members of the country’s ethnic Hutu majority killed about 70 percent of the minority Tutsis, and many moderate Hutus.

Officials from a Holocaust memorial in the United States are visiting places throughout Rwanda. They are finding connections between two of the worst mass killings in the 20th century.

Christopher Cruise joins us with more.

Skulls and bones fill the back wall of the Ntarama Church Memorial near Kigali.

“You can see how what has been, way to kill them. Some of them have been macheted mostly…”

A guide says about 5,000 people were killed in this area during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Visitors to the church can see coffins holding some of the dead. The victims’ old clothing hangs from ropes tied to the top of the building.

Angelique Mukabukizi was among the few survivors of the attack here. At the time, she was a young mother. She survived only because her attackers did not know she was alive. They thought she was stabbed to death.

There is evidence of the attack on her neck and arms. She tells her story to the visitors from the United States. She feels it is important to tell the world what happened in this place.

“If someone comes to visit the memorial and asks me for the testimony,” she says, “I do it confidently. It is like showing him the history of Rwanda. We cannot hide it and if he understands it can be a good lesson for him and the rest of the world.”

The Americans know the importance of learning from the past. They are part of a delegation from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum tells visitors about the systematic repression and killing of Jews by Germany and its allies during World War II.

Michael Abramovitz is the director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide. He says one of the main purposes of memorials is to make sure history is not forgotten.

“We really want to focus part of our efforts at the museum on raising awareness, raising consciousness about the fact that genocide did not end after the Holocaust, sadly, and that we still have a long way to go to realizing our collective vision of ‘never again.’”

He says visiting the memorial sites in Rwanda is a different experience from visiting a museum.

“We are only 20 years after the genocide in Rwanda and about 75 years after the Holocaust. And so what happened here is rawer and obviously there is no substitute for actually being on the place where these crimes happened. And that’s a very powerful, that’s a very powerful thing.”

There are many places across Rwanda like the Ntarama church, where victims’ bodies are left on display, and the walls still have bullet holes.

Some people have criticized Rwanda’s memorials. They say the memorials describe mainly the violence by extremist Hutus against ethnic Tutsis. They say little is said about the moderate Hutus who were murdered.

Rwanda begins marking the anniversary of the genocide on April 7th. That is when President Paul Kagame will light a national flame of mourning in Kigali. The torch has been traveling across the country since the beginning of the year. I’m Christopher Cruise.

Young Afghans May Influence Elections

More than 60 percent of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 25. That means Afghan youth could be a powerful group of voters in the country’s presidential election on Saturday. Mario Ritter has been following the situation for us.

Many Afghans are tired of years of violence. But young people from Afghan cities seem hopeful about the future. Haideri Kawash is a football player. He hopes the new government will keep the country secure.

"When I come from home to do practice here, there are too much fears, bomb blasters, many dangerous things. So I hope that the new government come and ensure security all over the country."

Presidential candidates are promising jobs and security to win the votes of young people like him. Fahima Kawoon produces a popular music show. She says Afghanistan will never return to a time when women and youth are ignored.

"When you compare now with five years ago, everything is changed.”

Back then, she says, women were not working outside the home and girls were not in school. But now, she sees them everywhere.

Not everyone is hopeful about the future. A refugee named Rohullah says he is afraid for his life and wants to leave the country. He does not believe the promises of politicians.

"All the candidates say after they win the elections they say they are going to bring changes, they always say they are going to being changes for the Afghan people, but I think all they say is just a dream. "

Fred Kagan is with the American Enterprise Institute. He says no single candidate will control the youth vote.

"I think it is not yet clear how important the youth vote will be in Afghanistan, it depends on how many young people actually come out to vote and who they vote for. I don't think that you should expect any one candidate to dominate the youth market, I would expect they will split."

Young businesspeople and many involved in politics say they are not concerned so much about who wins the election. They just want the voting to be fair.

Fahim Tokhi is the chief of a technology company. He also is active on Facebook. He says young people will protest if they believe the election is unfair.

"If the election result is corrupt, I think the youth will go to streets and there will be very huge numbers of protesters in the streets in every provinces of Afghanistan."

The number of politically active urban young people in Afghanistan is still small. However, they believe their use of media makes them influential. This presidential election will give them a chance to prove it. I’m Mario Ritter.

And I’m Jim Tedder in Washington. It’s hard to believe, but 50 years ago today, the Beatles were so famous that they had the top five best-selling songs in the United States.
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