February 15, 2023

Remembering Rwanda

By Karina Casarez

MSGA student Karina Casarez reflects on her recent Global Field Intensive (GFI) experience.

In Kinyarwandan, “kwibuka” translates to “remember.” When discussing CGA’s Global Field Intensive (GFI) to Rwanda, this simple word has more significant meaning because of the countless things I will always remember about this incredible experience.

I will always remember my initial impression of the country as beautifully lush, colorful, and so impressively clean. I will remember being astonished at the seemingly endless hills throughout the country because although referred to as the “land of a thousand hills,” I didn’t truly understand the moniker until I saw it first-hand. I will remember the excitement of being mere feet away from a family of elephants, giraffes, and zebras during our safari at Akagera National Park. But most importantly, I will never forget the impactful and humbling experience of remembering the Rwandan genocide through the stories heard and memorials visited while learning what reconstruction, justice, and reconciliation efforts have looked like for those who experienced one of the most unspeakable events in human history.

A zeal of zebras at Akagera National Park in Kayonza, Rwanda, 20 January 2023. (Photo/Ianela Losa)

A zeal of zebras at Akagera National Park in Kayonza, Rwanda, 20 January 2023. (Photo/Ianela Losa)

The GFI to Rwanda focused on understanding the reconciliation process after the 1994 genocide and the challenges of reintegrating perpetrators into society since many perpetrators’ sentences have now ended almost 30 years after the tragic events. While there were questions of a sensitive nature that we were not at liberty to ask in Rwanda, we were able to explore the topics of accountability, memorialization, physical and psychosocial trauma, gender equality, sexual violence, youth empowerment, and more.

An incredibly memorable experience was our visit to the Mbyo reconciliation village. Mbyo is one of eight such villages supporting ex-perpetrators and survivors living together in one community. In addition to receiving a tour of the humble village, we were able to hear first-hand testimonies from survivors and ex-perpetrators as they attested to their path of reconciliation. Throughout many of our meetings, it was often described to us how unified Rwanda is and the strength of reconciliation measures.

Elders and other community members at the Mbyo Reconciliation Village bid farewell to New York University students

Elders and other community members at the Mbyo Reconciliation Village bid farewell to New York University students, with whom they shared about experiences during and in the aftermath of the genocide against the Tutsi. Bugesera, Rwanda, 15 January 2023. (Photo/Ianela Losa)

Another memorable meeting during the GFI was our conversations with Alphonse Muleefu, a professor at the University of Rwanda and former legal officer with the Gacaca Courts in Rwanda. This conversation was another example of the kind of experience the GFI was able to provide that a traditional classroom setting would not have made possible. Although the class had many discussions concerning the Rwandan justice system and Gacaca trials before this meeting, it felt more impactful to hear from an individual who actively worked within these systems and who could provide greater context as to the processes put into place as a response to the overwhelming number of cases after the genocide. I often find it easy to judge systems and processes from afar, with an outside perspective and a moral compass of what is seemingly always right and wrong. However, speaking with individuals like Professor Muleefu made it increasingly apparent how difficult a situation Rwanda faced, with no easy path forward. Talks like these highlighted the complexities of post-conflict reconstruction and the challenges of justice and reconciliation in instances of mass atrocities, and more specifically, the 1994 genocide.

As someone with a personal academic interest in studying crimes of genocide and who has researched the 1994 Rwandan genocide, this experience was an unforgettable opportunity that will impact the remainder of my time at NYU and my future career endeavors. However, this was not an exclusive experience for those of us interested in international law and human rights. Learning first-hand about Rwanda’s efforts to rebuild its society and move forward from its tragic past provided an incredible opportunity for reflection to all who pledge to dedicate their lives to making the world a better place. Thus, in honor of kwibuka, I will always remember this trip for the picture-perfect Rwandan hills, the gracious hospitality received, the inspiring stories of survival and hope shared, and the many lessons learned regarding the challenges of justice and reconciliation in the efforts to transcend the horrific genocide of 1994.

Professor Jennifer Trahan

Professor Jennifer Trahan, who led the GFI trip to Rwanda, offers her respects to the departed interred at the Kigali Genocide Memorial on behalf of the delegation. Kigali, Rwanda, 14 January 2023. (Photo/Ianela Losa)

New York University students meet with representatives of UN Women

New York University students meet with representatives of UN Women. Kigali, Rwanda, 22 January 2023. (Photo/UN Women Rwanda)

The GFI consisted of pre-departure classes at NYU, and, in Rwanda: 15 meetings with government officials and NGOs, 6 site visits, and a 1-day safari.

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