The Lemkin Summit: The Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders

Marylise Uwabideli

Next month, April 6th will mark the 21st anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide where over 800,000 men, women, and children of the Tutsi ethnic group were slaughtered in only 100 days.

Being from Rwanda, having to go into hiding during the Rwandan Genocide and watching as people in my family including my own father were killed during the atrocity, Genocide prevention is something that I have always strived to stand for.

Which is why I chose to apply to attend the Lemkin Summit: a national gathering of the next generation of human rights defenders in Washington D.C. The summit was named after Raphael Lemkin who was an immigrant to the United States from Poland during the start of World War II was the first person to use the term “Genocide” which translates to the killing of a specific race, religion, ethnic group, etc.

It is because of Raphael Lemkin and his persistence for justice and action that many institutions were formed to try to stop more mass killings from happening. “Without him, we would not have the international criminal court to hold people at fault for what they have done, he is a hero who was persistent and wrote documents after documents as to why we need to take action” Mehnaz Afridi, director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and interfaith Education center here at Manhattan College, said.

Lemkin Summit

I was able to meet many different students from all across the country and from different universities who like myself wanted to stand up for those who did not have a voice. “I think it is so important as a student activist to be a part of conferences like this. Not only do you learn a great deal from the speakers, but you are reminded that you are a part of a movement and that you have the power to make a difference,” Emily Collinson from American University said.

We spent the three days learning more about mass killings that are still happening today in countries such as Sudan, Syria, and The Central African Republic. I had the honor of listening to many guest speakers from all different background whether it was genocide survivors or former ambassadors who worked in countries that had gone through these types of atrocities such as Larry Wohlers who is the former ambassador for the Central African Republic.

The most influential part of the weekend was when we were able to Skype with Samantha Power who is the United States of America’s ambassador to the United Nations and also the author of “A Problem from Hell”.

Ambassador Power along with all of these speakers gave us great incite on why these things continue to happen even today and what our generation can do to prevent them from going on. The final day of the summit was spent visiting with members of congress such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Sean Patrick, and Rep. John Lewis so they were be able to hear our concerns and what we want to happen so that more lives will not have to be taken.

I encourage everyone to go to conferences such as these so we can all be aware and know how to take action to defend human rights around the world.