Mar 022011
Authors: Emily Johnson

Imagine losing both parents and seven siblings to murder and then forgiving the people who killed them.

Joseph Sebarenzi, a Rwandan Tutsi, will share with the community tonight his firsthand experience in the 1994 Rwandan conflict between the majority Hutu population and the minority Tustsis, resulting in the killing of 800,000 Tutsis and pro-peace Hutus.

Sebarenzi survived the ordeal by escaping Rwanda. He returned in 1997 and served as speaker of the Rwanda Parliament until 2000, when he fled his country again after learning of an assassination plot against him.

He now lives in the U.S. and tells his story around the country, speaking about what can be done to end the cycle of violence in divided societies and the journey through hope and forgiveness.

On his website, Sebarenzi says, “The suffering each of us endures should not take away our humanity and kindness.”
Sebarenzi will speak in the Lory Student Center Theatre tonight at 7 p.m. and is part of the event line-up for Holocaust Awareness Week.

Garrett Hayes, a member of United Men of Color, who’s sponsoring the event with Hillel and the Associated Students of CSU, had a hand in bringing Sebarenzi to CSU.

“He really stood out for us, and we thought he had an interesting story that the campus would want to — needed to — hear about,” Hayes said. “We wanted to involve another organization so we partnered with Hillel and the rest is history.”

Hayes hopes the community will be affected by Sebarenzi’s presentation.

“You can watch Hotel Rwanda,” he said, referring to the movie about the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed more than 1,000 Tutsi refugees during the genocide, “but I don’t think it really registers that Rwanda received no help from other countries during that crisis.”

Rabbi Allison Peiser, campus director of Hillel of Colorado at CSU, hopes people will learn more about how genocide continues to happen in our time and “learn from someone who has experienced the aftermath of genocide and has been empowered to respond to these events and take action.”

Peiser is excited that Seberanzi is coming to campus.

“I am hoping that this week of programming will initiate conversation about our role in the world around us and how we think about the world as a global community in which each one of us is responsible to take action,” she said in an e-mail to the Collegian.

When asked what the difference between Holocaust and genocide is, Peiser said, “Holocaust is the word that has been used to specifically describe the Nazis’ targeting populations during World War II.  The Holocaust was one example of genocide.  Genocide is a targeted killing of a population based on race, religion or ethnicity.”

Junior communication studies major Garrett Hayes believes there’s no real difference between the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide. He thinks both were horrific.

“We want people to have awareness,” he said. “A lot of people forget about things like this.”

Staff writer Emily Johnson can be reached at

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