Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

'Garden of Eden'-Like Rwanda Works to Ward off Violent Past

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

'Garden of Eden'-Like Rwanda Works to Ward off Violent Past

Article excerpt

Editor's note: This is the final story in a five-part series on Oklahoma's ties to Rwanda. See Journal Record Publisher Mary Melon's blog on the trip at http://blogs.journalrecord.com/rwandablog/.

U.S. 10th Circuit Court Judge David M. Ebel described Rwanda as having a sense of innocence, of greenness, that seems to belie the African country's violent history. Or, ironically, that innocence might help explain how a country with so little crime bred one of the bloodiest cases of genocide of the last few decades.

"When you step off the plane and into Rwanda, it feels almost like stepping into a Garden of Eden," said Ebel. "There is a naturalism, it is very green, a place where there has not been significant intrusion from other countries. When you go into their villages, the children run alongside the car and put out their hands; you stick your hand out the window and it goes whap, whap, whap, all the way down the road."

Stopping at a roadside store, Ebel left his camera on the seat of an open car. When he came back, there were about 100 people looking at the camera in fascination - and then they gave it back, said Ebel. On his trips to the country, Ebel said he never felt he was in danger.

With 10 million people, Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries on the African continent. Yet, of the 121,000 people incarcerated in Rwanda's prisons, 120,000 of them are imprisoned due to war crimes related to the genocide of the 1990s, said Ebel, leaving only about 1,000 imprisoned for common criminal activity.

"People here just don't commit crimes like in other places," said Ebel. "Somehow, they didn't see killing your neighbor as a crime. That was regarded as obeying an order from the government." Thus, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people were killed in what's become known as the Rwandan Genocide, which pitted the ruling ethnic group, the Hutus, against the Tutsis.

"For the U.S. to match the percentage of the population that was killed during 90 days of genocide, it would take an event on the scale of 9/11 to happen ten times each day, every day, for seven straight years," said Ebel.

In the years since, the country has elected a new leader and has engaged in the work of building a justice system. …

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