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Rwandan Memorial Will Remind World of Genocide Horrors - 2004-04-01

In the Rwandan capital, Kigali, builders are completing a new memorial to honor the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed during the three and a half month rampage by Hutu extremists in 1994. The genocide memorial, which is part museum and part a final resting place for some of the victims, is set to become Rwanda's most poignant and sobering reminder of the horror that engulfed the tiny nation a decade ago.

Standing majestically on the slope of one of Kigali's many green rolling hills, the sprawling Gisozi Memorial, complete with a large cemetery and a flower garden, is to be the site of official ceremonies on April 7, marking the 10th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide.

More than 400 local workers are hammering, sawing, and painting around the clock to have the memorial completed by next Wednesday. Building is way behind schedule but organizers say everyone is determined to finish the work on time. After its unveiling, the $2.5 million complex will become Rwanda's national memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, who were systematically slaughtered for 100 days by Hutu extremists. The extremists were trying to wipe out their hated ethnic minority rivals. The memorial will also honor the tens of thousands of moderate Hutus who were also killed because they would not participate in the massacres.

The construction of the memorial is being handled by Aegis Trust, a British-based genocide prevention organization, with funding from Belgium, Sweden and the U.S.-based Clinton Foundation. The chairman of the Aegis Trust, James Smith, explains the memorial has been designed to be both a museum and a burial place for many, if not most, of the people killed in and around Kigali at the time.

"The entrance to the center is going to run through the cemetery," he said. "There are a quarter of a million people buried here, all victims of the genocide in that three-month period in 1994.

"Outside in the cemetery, there will be a wall of names," continued Mr. Smith. "We have teams of people, most of them survivors, going around Kigali at the moment collecting names. In the past two months they have collected 20,000 names. These will be inscribed on the wall of names and as the years go by, more and more names will be added to this."

According to the design plans, visitors will descend into a dark, crypt-like series of rooms, where they will view, among other displays, graphic photographs and film clips of the unspeakable violence that erupted in 1994.

Mr. Smith says there will also be a special display which he believes will have the most emotional impact on visitors - a photo exhibit dedicated to showing some of the genocide victims in their daily lives. The exhibit will be accompanied by audio recordings with details of who the victims were.

"This is very powerful because it will show thousands of individual faces and again, powerfully communicate that this wasn't some far off little civil war, tribal thing that was happening here," he said. "You will see people getting married, people at university, babies in cots, people going around in ordinary daily lives."

Much like the Jewish Holocaust museums in Berlin, Jerusalem, and Washington D.C., organizers here hope the Gisozi memorial will become an important place to remind people of the horrible cost of genocide.

Mr. Smith says he hopes what the Kigali memorial will not do is perpetuate Rwanda's ethnic divisions.

"Memorials do have the potential danger of being divisive for societies, not so much to keep wounds open as perhaps accuse a sector of society that could become victims of corporate or collective blame and that's something we've very much borne in mind," he said. "In fact, if there was one brief given to us by the government of Rwanda here, it was to ensure the memorial does not accuse the children of the perpetrators but does accuse the ideology that led to the genocide and that's a great challenge to do that."

Genocide survivors in Rwanda have already established hundreds of smaller memorials in villages throughout the country. Many of the memorials consist of nothing more than simple tin huts, where the bones and skulls of those killed in the area are kept and displayed.

One Tutsi survivor, Jean Marie Ntagara whose parents and eight brothers and sisters were murdered during the genocide, says he believes the gruesome reminders are a necessary part of making people see the consequences of intolerance, anger, prejudice.

Mr. Ntagara says when people visit the genocide memorials they should take a silent vow to never let this happen to anyone ever again.