Vigil remembers Rwandan genocide 20 years later

The Humanists of Boston University led students in a candlelight vigil Monday evening to reflect on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 ethnic genocide in Rwanda.

Gathered in a circle, 25 students lit candles as a symbol of love and respect for victims of the Rwandan genocide, in which over half a million Rwandan citizens were killed, as well as those who are currently subjected to violence or hatred.

“A vigil is not only a symbol of remembrance,” said HBU President Patrick Johnson, a College of Arts and Sciences junior. “It is a symbol of regret. What have we learned 20 years later? Are we complacent, passive individuals, to be in the veiling of history? Or are we an informed, impassioned group ready to act?”

Johnson led the group in an elegy that commemorated the victims of the genocide, which took place during the Rwandan civil war, and advocated for action against and awareness of present-day violence and hatred.

Chaplain for International Students Reverend Brittany Longsdorf also spoke at the vigil, and said the 20 candles lit by mourners symbolized 20 years of “suffering, hatred, violence, but also healing and hope” that have occurred since the genocide.

Johnson reminded those who attended the vigil of the genocide’s importance and pressed participants to question their stance on violence and acts of hatred.

“Silence corrupts justice,” he said. “We must demand more of our world and of ourselves, so that our future memories of today are not contained within the vigil.”

Lauren Betz, a sophomore in CAS who attended the vigil, said it was an important and simple way for students to commemorate Rwandan genocide and join together to honor its victims.

“Its important to not only have vigils like this but to spread public awareness,” she said. “I didn’t know that it happened or that it existed until I was a high schooler.”

Although Betz applauded the vigil for being easily accessible, she said it was difficult for some students to reflect upon the genocide.

“800,000 people were murdered and millions of others were displaced,” she said. “It’s not a fun topic, it’s not a topic that a lot of people want to think about, but it’s something that we need to think about. It’s easy to be detached from it when you’re half the world away.”

Julie Williams, a freshman in CAS and a member of HBU, said the vigil not only allowed her to honor victims of the genocide, but also held implications for the future as well.

“When things like the Rwandan genocide happen we need to be made aware, and one way to raise awareness is to commemorate past events so that we can prevent it in the future,” she said.

The vigil concluded with a collective moment of silence to encourage personal reflection and tribute to the genocides’ victims, as a single lit candle was passed amongst participants as a symbol of love and remembrance.

“It’s very easily forgotten in our everyday lives,” said Jessica Allan, a freshman in CAS who attended the vigil. “Although we are very lucky, there are others who aren’t.”

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