Above: Professor Boatamo Mosupyoe explains the eight stages of genocide.

Mathilde Mukantabana, a young wife and mother, earned master’s degrees in history and social work from Sacramento State, and by 1994, she had her first job teaching history at Cosumnes River College.

Her family in Sacramento was safe and thriving, but her family at home in Rwanda was in peril. In April 1994, leaders of the Hutu-majority government ordered the mass extermination of ethnic-minority Tutsis and their moderate Hutu allies.

During the 100 days that followed, more than 800,000 men, women, and children were slaughtered in sweeping violence known as "the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda." Among the dead were Mukantabana’s parents, five siblings, aunts, uncles, and dozens of other relatives and friends. Together, she and her husband, Alexandre Kimenyi, then a professor of Pan African Studies at Sac State, lost more than 100 family members.

Sacramento State’s fifth International Genocide Conference – Thursday, Nov. 1, through Saturday, Nov. 3, in the University Union – will be a homecoming for Mukantabana, who now serves as ambassador from the Republic of Rwanda to the United States.

Sac State is the rare university that has integrated genocide studies into its curriculum and regularly presents such a conference that draws participants from throughout the world, she says. The conference was organized and planned in Sacramento State’s Ethnic Studies department.

“I am very proud of my alma mater for convening a forum that is actively speaking out against hatred, injustice, bigotry, and prejudice, and for its vigilance against any attempt to blur the historical record,” Mukantabana says. “Sacramento State has become a rallying ground for a devoted community of organizers, educators, and human rights activists in their protracted fight against genocide ideology.”

This year's conference is dedicated to Kimenyi, who organized the University's first genocide conference, in 1998, and was working on the 2011 conference when he died suddenly.

“There is no better way to honor his legacy and the memory of all who have perished,” Mukantabana says. “This conference offers yet another opportunity to reflect collectively, and to offer insightful research, on the scourge of genocide and other mass atrocities that have been, and still are, devastating our world. And it encourages survivors to find a medium to channel their resilience and express their sorrow.”

The conference theme is “Forms of Genocide Across the Globe: Challenges, Responses, and Accountability.” Except for private receptions, the event is free and open to the campus community and general public. 

Attendees may register online or in person 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, in the University Union, Lobby Suite.

"Sacramento State is pleased and honored to host the conference,” says University President Robert S. Nelsen. “It is shocking how little we have learned from the past, and it is incumbent upon Sacramento State to be at the forefront in educating our students and our nation so that we make progress in stopping those horrors from recurring.

"Together, we must work to create a safer, more humane world.”

More than 500 genocide scholars worldwide submitted abstracts for the conference; 122 individuals from as far away as France and Sri Lanka were selected to present their research during 31 concurrent panel discussions over the three days.

They will cover mass killings of the 20th and 21st centuries, including the Holocaust, Cambodian killing fields, extermination of American Indians, genocides in Armenia, East Timor, and Rwanda, and sexual violence against the LBGT community.

Scholars will explore such ideas as healing through art, music, photography, and dance; gender violence during and in the aftermath of genocide; genocide denial and its consequences; and how to prevent future mass killings.

Featured speakers include Johnston Busingye, Rwanda’s attorney general and minister of justice, who will deliver the opening keynote address at 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, in the University Ballroom.

Mary Tarango, tribal chairwoman of California’s Wilton Rancheria, will bless the conference.

Others addressing the gathering are Adama Dieng, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on genocide prevention; Chris Finley, assistant professor at the University of Southern California and an expert on queer indigenous studies; Jean-Damascène Bizimana, executive secretary of Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide; and Jeannette Ndlovhu, deputy permanent representative to the UN from South Africa.

The conference is presented by the Department of Ethnic Studies, in partnership with Sacramento State’s College of Social Sciences & Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Arts & Letters, and the departments of Anthropology, History, and Women’s Studies; along with Dickinson College; Sonoma State; Global Majority; the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide; and the Friends of Rwanda Association.

Sac State’s fifth International Genocide Conference was organized primarily by Boatamo "Ati" Mosupyoe, professor of Ethnic Studies and Pan African Studies. She grew up in South Africa during apartheid and lost family members to police killings.

“My focus all my life, as soon as I experienced tragedy, is to have a peaceful world, to forgive and reconcile,” she says. “Genocide is a somber and sad topic, but also can be hopeful. Essentially, people want peace. I don’t think we nurture that need enough. For me, creating a better world is possible.” – Dixie Reid