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African Union Holds Three-Day Rwanda Genocide Observance

Observances are being held in several capitals to mark the 14th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. VOA's Peter Heinlein covered a seminar at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa dedicated to eradicating the ideology of genocide.

The gathering brings together experts and observers from scores of African and non-African countries, as well as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. The object is to act on the lessons learned from the horror that struck Rwanda in 1994 when 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a matter of weeks.

Sweden's ambassador to the African Union Staffan Tillander underlined the continuing need to focus on conditions that lead to genocide, chiefly the violence perpetrated against women and children in conflict situations.

"This seminar hopefully could help us broaden our views, help us take action, give us the tools to force us and our multilateral organizations to do something about the violence we know is taking place, and we know threatens to take place in the near future in different places," Tillander said.

Among participants in the seminar is Bwiza Sekamana Connie, a member of the foreign affairs committee of Rwanda's parliament and an expert on the ideology of genocide. In an interview with VOA, she lamented that the conditions for genocide still exist, not only in Rwanda, but in many other countries.

"…because worldwide, we know genocide ideology is a protracted, systematic, organized ideology that is being taught by the governments and implemented by the governments using its own people against other people of its country, of its society," she said. "And unfortunately, if this is not systemically eradicated, it even contaminates the generations that follow. We are being challenged today in Rwanda, where we find that school students of secondary, to senior six, you are finding that these children who haven't even been born by 1994, they are having the same remnants of ideology of genocide."

Another speaker at the conference is Indal Lourdes Sajor, the U.N. development agency's senior adviser on sexual and gender-based violence in Darfur. She says the Rwanda experience contains important lessons for the conflicts raging in western Sudan and other African trouble spots.

"I think what happened in Rwanda was the most horrendous human rights violations because of the context of the genocide and women were extremely abused and raped many times over and mutilated, so the lessons learned from Rwanda is that this crime should not be repeated again, but more importantly that we should be able to put in place the whole concept of protection, prevention and response to women who are in conflict situations," she said.

The African Union seminar included presentations from participants from Democratic Republic of Congo and other regions that have witnessed ethnic clashes.

The three-day Rwanda genocide observance at AU headquarters concludes Monday with a memorial service for the victims. Representatives of more than 100 countries are expected to attend.