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It's a short walk from bullying to hate crimes to genocide, according to Barbara Coloroso. In her latest book, Extraordinary Evil, she examines the roots of genocide and the social and political climate in which it can breed. Colorosa's book was inspired by her visit to Kigali, and her work with the survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Child behavior writer was inspired by visit to Rwanda
In her books, Barbara Coloroso writes about parenting, school discipline and non-violent conflict resolution. More than 10 years ago, she was invited to Rwanda to speak about her book on bullying. While there, she met young people orphaned in the 1994 genocide. She heard what they had gone through, as Hutu extremists massacred 800 thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus during a three month killing spree. She says many stories inspired her, including one told to her by a young man.
"He fled as a young child with his whole family to a church compound outside of Kigali when the genocide started," she says. "He witnessed his mom and sisters hacked to death. His father tried to protect him, and was murdered. He stayed under his dead father's body until the [militias] were finished with [killing] 20,000 human beings in that church compound that day. This injured orphan fled to the hills of Rwanda and stayed until the genocide was over, hiding with his wounds to his head," Coloroso says.
Isaiah Munyaneza told Coloroso a similar tale.
"My family, we were 10 children; father, mother eight boys, two daughters and one granddaughter," he says. "Now [it's just me] and my two young brothers, and uncles. We were at least 40 persons, now we're [only] six."
The relationship between bullying and genocide
In those stories, Coloroso saw parallels between bullying and genocide.
"Genocide is the most extreme form of bullying, a far too common system of behaviors that's learned in childhood and rooted in utter contempt for another human being who is been deemed by the bully and his or her accomplices to be worthless or inferior and undeserving of respect," she says. "Every genocide throughout human history has been thoroughly imagined, meticulously planned and brutally executed. It really begins with believing that someone in our midst is less than us and treating them that way."
Mediation may end wars, but will not stop genocide
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The word 'Genocide' was created by Polish Jewish legal scholar Raphael Lemkin in 1944, to describe the Nazi policies of systematic murder.
"He coined that term to talk about this horrific crime and wanted to have it codified in international law so that we can see it for the horror it was, separate from war," she says. "Every genocide that I studied had as a cover, war. It's in the interest of any genocidal regime to create a context that distracts attention from the true nature of their goals and behavior," Coloroso says.
Genocide and armed conflict are related, Coloroso says, but they are different, and must be approached differently. Trying to stop a genocide using tools that are effective in a war, she says, is futile, naïve and even dangerous.
"Armed conflict can be resolved through some form of conflict resolution, often by a third party: negotiations, truce, disarmament, or reason," she says. "But genocide must be not resolved but stopped by a third party, perpetrators brought to justice, reparation made, and the community healed through restorative justice. And if healing is not possible, the people involved must be able to coexist in community," Coloroso says.
Rwandan youth work to destroy roots of hatred
To prevent genocide from happening again, the roots of hatred must be destroyed. She notes, that's what has been happening in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide.
"The Hutu and the Tutsi must exist together in this very small country, and it's the young people who I have most hope for," she says. "They are beginning to see through the devastation how hatred can be built up in our school systems, in our communities, actually in our churches - in our faith traditions - because religion played an important role in not only perpetrating the genocide, but setting up a mind set of 'us' and 'them,' that 'I'm better than you' mind set. So, all of those issues must be targeted. And I see with the young people, the ones that I worked with, the young girls who are going through high school right now, the young boys that are now getting their university degrees. One of them, Michael Kalisa, who actually finished his Masters in international law here in the United States, and he is going back to Rwanda," Coloroso says.
A strong, independent justice system is one solution
Michael Kalisa was born and raised as a Rwandan refugee in Congo. He says he is eager to help rebuild the judicial system in his country.
"We're trying to work on justice and accountability and to change the justice policies to follow the rule of law," he says. "We have to get very clear and transparent laws to protect and serve the citizens. We have the prosecutors who have to be really independent but also obedient to the law in order to not abuse their power, because the prosecution has a lot of power. And also to empower the bar, the lawyer association, those are the people who are like the watchdog because they don't belong to the government. They are an independent body who can legally argue with the prosecutor in front of the judge. They really need to be independent and well-equipped and financially well-rewarded," Kalisa says.
Forging bonds between Hutu and Tutsi children
Another Rwandan refugee who worked with Barbara Coloroso is Celestin Kayitana, 28. He is studying to get a degree in business while volunteering in his community.
"I volunteer for the street kids. I organize music for traditional dances to perform in festivals," he says. "They are both Hutu and Tutsi, but now we are Rwandans. What I'm trying to do is to teach love for each and everybody. I lost most of my family members during genocide, but I found the easiest way is to try to teach the future generation," Kayitana says.
Education is another key to preventing genocide
The effort to improve Rwanda's education system is what gives Eugene Bayingana hope in the future. He is graduating this year from Kigali University.
"Now we have more universities and the number is increasing every year, so you can see some change," he says. "I had no hope before because I was not educated. We met difficult problems that stopped us. Even our parents, they had been refugees and could not go to school. But now because of the education, I got a chance and I have hopes that I'll be one of the guys that will hold the future of this country," Bayingana says.
With that kind of enthusiasm and determination, Barbara Coloroso believes, Rwandan young people will rebuild their country and create a better future without forgetting the painful lessons of the genocide.