Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 8, 2010
Students confront reality of genocide
Holocaust historian labels 20th century the century of genocide
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - The act of genocide, targeting a group of people for deliberate and systematic destruction, was so prevalent in the 20th century that it has been dubbed the century of genocide.
From the Armenian Massacres after the First World War and the Holocaust of the Second World War to the killing fields of Cambodia during the 1970s and the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda, the 21st century was the bloodiest time in human history.
Rich Hitchens, founder and president of the Canadian Centre for Genocide Education, told students that 250 million people were killed in cold blood last century. The number does not reflect soldiers killed in war. It signifies how many unarmed men, women and children were killed.
So far, a decade in, the new millennium has been no different. Given the current events in the Darfur region of Sudan, it seems as though nothing has been learned from the atrocities of the past.
Hitchens is a Holocaust historian trained in the United States, who realized that Canada has no Holocaust-themed institutions. Compelled to do something, he founded the Canadian Centre for Genocide Education.
"Virtually every state has a Holocaust museum of some sort. They have summer courses for teachers to take on the Holocaust. When I came back to Canada I learned that there is no actual summer course on the Holocaust, let alone on genocide," said Hitchens, who lives in London, Ont.
He was the keynote speaker at a March 2 genocide conference, held at Annunciation Church. At the conference were Grade 9 students from five of Edmonton Catholic's international baccalaureate schools: Archbishop MacDonald, Holy Trinity, St. Joseph, St. Clement and St. Thomas More.
"It's all about getting these students here to live their lives but be a little less concerned about their shoes and Saturday night and their hair, and to recognize that people around the world are living on less than a dollar a day," said Hitchens, promoting the concept of global citizenship.
An organizer of the event was Sandi Young, a teacher from St. Thomas More School, active in social justice for several years. Young was a part of a 30-teacher contingent that went to Rwanda in 2009, visiting genocide sites, talking with students and teachers, and conversing with government officials.
"Social justice has been a focus of ours for three years, and this definitely fits in," Young said of the genocide conference, which is aimed at encouraging students to focus less on "I and me" and more on "we and us."
"We are trying to set a plan of action. What can our students do to make a difference?" she said.
Hitchens told the students that short of the potentially apocalyptic consequences of global warming, mass murder by governments eclipses all other problems facing the world.
"Darfur has been front and centre. That has been unfolding since 2003, and the response has been identical to the past, some words and not much else in terms of action from the Western world.
"Congo remains an open sore in Africa. Chechnya festers as well. The 20th century was a century of genocide, and it isn't looking much better for the 21st century," said Hitchens.
The students watched a one-hour video, The Last Just Man, a documentary about Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire's ill-fated peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. Witnessing genocide in action firsthand, Dallaire pleaded for reinforcements of 2,000 soldiers to put an end to the killings. The UN Security Council refused. The result was about a million Tutsi deaths in 100 days.
"Students are stunned by the international community. The world just callously looked away. It would be like if you saw a burning building, with people leaping out and screaming in pain, and all you're doing is standing there on the sidewalk watching them. The world was so grossly negligent," he said.
The faint glimmer of hope in preventing another century of 250 million genocide victims is the student-driven, anti-genocide movement. Those young people acknowledge the common bonds that tie humans together. They possess the attitude that the same sympathy, compassion and worldwide assistance shown for victims of natural disasters should be given for victims of human conflict as well.
"We really have to change our priorities. Look at the earthquake in Haiti, and there was a great outpouring of grief and support from all over the world, and that was remarkable. It showed the best of humanity. People should have cared and they did. But we can't seem to muster the same response for man-made catastrophes," said Hitchens.
He would like to see the students recognize that they live in Edmonton, but can still care about the Muslim Africans in Darfur.
Rwandan genocide survivor Dr. Tharisse Seminega and an anti-genocide student panel, Stand Calgary, also spoke to the students about their experiences in fostering awareness and opposing genocide.
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