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Preserving Memories of Genocide in Rwanda

USC Shoah Foundation Institute partners to record survivor testimony.

By Talia Cohen
February 1, 2008

Preserving Memories of Genocide in Rwanda

In a pathbreaking new partnership to record the testimonies of genocide survivors, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education is joining with IBUKA, the umbrella organization representing survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide, to document the genocide in Rwanda that claimed as many as 1 million lives.

The Shoah Foundation Institute, part of USC College since 2006, conducted a similar project from 1994 to 1999 when it gathered nearly 52,000 video testimonies from survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, which it now uses for educational and scholarly purposes.

“There is no more compelling argument against intolerance than the testimony of those who have experienced its most horrific consequences firsthand,” said Douglas Greenberg, executive director of the institute. “Like the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust, the testimonies of survivors of the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide have the power to change the world, which is why they must be preserved and disseminated.”

Greenberg, also a professor of history in USC College, and Theodore Simburudali, president of IBUKA, signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for the institute to provide technical consultation, logistical support, equipment, training and other services to support IBUKA’s video interviews with survivors beginning this year. The project is called GTR(Genocide Testimony Research)-IBUKA.

“On behalf of IBUKA Association, I am delighted that our dreams of recording the memories of survivors for future generations are going to become a reality,” Simburudali said. “The creation of GTR-IBUKA, a center aimed to collect survivors’ testimonies, represents an historic achievement.

“The opportunity to work collaboratively with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute presents us with an ideal opportunity for success, and we hope to benefit from their rich experience in collecting testimony of genocide survivors. Together we believe we will make a contribution not only to Rwanda, but to the entire world.”

The interviewing phase will follow a procedure similar to that employed by the institute when it gathered testimony from Holocaust survivors and other witnesses. Although the first interviews will likely be conducted in Kigali, the goal of the interviewing phase is to reach survivors from throughout Rwanda as well as those who live elsewhere in the world. The interviews will be recorded with high-definition digital video cameras and stored on servers in both Rwanda and the United States.

The unprecedented partnership between the Institute and IBUKA is intended to be a model upon which other, similar, collaborations can be based. The partners plan not only to preserve the testimonies but also to use them to develop educational programs for use, along with those collected by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, throughout the world.

“Every human being should listen carefully to survivors’ testimony,” said François Ngarambe of IBUKA, “in order to understand that what happened to them and to their loved ones is likely to happen to any of us anytime if we don’t act as one, here and now, for a real ‘never again’ — which should be not just a slogan, but a real commitment to prevent genocide from ever being repeated.”

The agreement to begin the project is the result of an ongoing dialogue between the institute and IBUKA. In spring 2006 and 2007 Greenberg traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, for meetings, and representatives of IBUKA and other survivor organizations traveled to Los Angeles for a lengthy meeting in November 2007.

While at the institute, the delegates met with USC officials, including USC College Dean Howard Gillman. They also toured the institute’s data center, participated in intensive meetings with institute staff and others to address general issues and specific details of the project, and worked with institute staff to develop the memorandum of understanding.

Incorporated as a charity in 1995, IBUKA coordinates and leads joint survivors’ projects, which have included home construction, peer counseling, vocational training and the provision of medical support with specific focus on access to antiretroviral for rape victims. IBUKA has recently worked very closely with the Rwandan government to advocate for survivors and preserve the memory of the Rwandan genocide by recording eyewitness testimonies and building memorial sites.

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s archive is the largest visual history archive in the world. The institute interviewed Jewish, homosexual, Jehovah’s Witness, and Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, as well as liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, survivors of Eugenics policies and war crimes trials participants. Its mission is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry — and the suffering they cause — through the educational use of visual history testimonies.