The Aegis Trust is an international organization working to prevent genocide. Aegis:
* Honours the memory of the victims of genocide.
* Enables students, professionals, decision-makers and a wider public to meet survivors and learn from their experiences.
* Works through education to build long-term peace and confront the prejudice and beliefs that lead to genocide.
* Helps survivors to rebuild their lives.
* Conducts research on places where genocide is a current threat.
* Works to end impunity by holding perpetrators to account.
* Provides policy advice to decision-makers who can respond.
* Brings the voices of those at risk to politicians, the media and the public.
Aegis today and tomorrow
Today Aegis has offices in the US, UK and Rwanda, where it has been responsible for the Kigali Genocide Memorial since establishing it at the request of Rwandan authorities in 2004. Sited where some 250,000 genocide victims lie buried, the Memorial hosts tens of thousands of visitors each year, from Rwandan school students to international celebrities and politicians.
Kigali City Council has set land aside for its development. As the site expands it will become a Centre for Humanity for Rwanda, Africa and the World.
The existing site, with exhibitions, landscaped gardens and mass graves, will remain a permanent memorial to lives lost. It will be augmented by new classrooms for peace-building education, an amphitheatre for special events, a temporary exhibitions area, a vastly expanded Genocide Documentation Centre housing millions of documents and an International School of Genocide Studies, taking lessons beyond Rwanda’s borders.
Construction will be phased over several years. Significant funding will be needed for delivery, in addition to money already secured.
Brothers James and Stephen Smith created the UK Holocaust Centre in 1995, but events in Bosnia and Rwanda left them troubled: was remembrance enough?
The Kosovo crisis in 1999 was the final catalyst for Aegis. The ethnic cleansing seemed to take the West by surprise. However, while organizing aid for victims of the crisis, the brothers recognised that like events in the Holocaust, a long process preceded the point where people could be systematically expelled or murdered.
Genocide, they concluded, is a public health issue. We prevent epidemics because we know the factors that cause them. And since we can identify factors for genocide, we should be able to prevent that too. So the Aegis Trust for genocide prevention was born.
The Aegis prevention model
Aegis treats genocide as a public health issue with three phases:
1) Primary Prevention: Research, remembrance and learning about the past, creating community resilience against the risk of genocide in the future
2) Secondary Prevention: Evidence-based campaigns to stop mass atrocities in the present
3) Tertiary prevention: Supporting survivors and communities to rebuild when genocide is past
How this applies to Aegis’ work in practice is outlined below.
Primary Prevention: peace-building education
With over 60% under age 24, many Rwandans were born after the genocide, with little knowledge of what led to it. Since 2008, Aegis’ peace-building education programme has reached over 11,000 young Rwandans. Independent analysis shows it is changing attitudes and behaviour among students and their communities.
Developed by Aegis in conjunction with Rwanda’s Ministry of Education, a new mobile version of this programme launched in May 2013. The programme exhibition, Peace-building after Genocide, tells the amazing stories of Rwandans who stood against genocide and have worked to build peace in their communities, inspiring others to do the same.
Aegis is delivering the peace education programme in collaboration with partners who bring an exciting wealth of experience to the task. They include Rwanda’s Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), the USC Shoah Foundation – which has incorporated Rwandan elements into its IWitness interactive educational platform – and Radio La Benevolencija, whose soap opera, Musekewaya‚ is listened to by around 90% of Rwanda’s population. Supporting partners also include the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Netherlands Institute for Genocide and Holocaust Studies (NIOD) and the University of Texas Libraries (UTL).
Secondary prevention: advocacy for people at risk
Genocide prevention sometimes means responding to situations where people are facing a significant, immediate threat of violence. Potential victims of genocide are at greatest risk when their safety is seen as outside the interests of decision-makers who could help protect them. This risk is heightened when citizens are unaware of the dangers faced by their fellow human beings, and therefore unable to put pressure on decision-makers to take action.
This is where Aegis’ advocacy work comes in. Aegis conducts research on mass atrocity situations to formulate evidence-based advice for policy-makers, raises awareness in the media and develops targeted campaigns to achieve changes in policy and law.
In 2005 Aegis coordinated establishment of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide, for which Aegis provides the Secretariat. In 2007, Aegis assisted in the creation of a counterpart group in the Canadian parliament. These are currently the World’s only parliamentary groups on genocide prevention. Aegis is now working with parliamentarians around the World to develop a global parliamentary network for prevention of mass atrocities.
Aegis Students, the organization’s youth arm, is building an empowered grassroots movement. This growing group of passionate and informed young people is taking proactive steps to prevent genocide.
Tertiary prevention: rebuilding lives
Everything stops when genocide happens. Children’s education is stunted, economies collapse and healthcare facilities decline rapidly. Families and communities are fractured, taking generations to repair.
When Aegis was developing the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the team interviewed over 2,000 people and quickly realised that despite strong growth in Rwanda since 1994, significant numbers of those most affected by the genocide could not meet basic needs.
Face to face with the emotional, financial and health challenges experienced by these survivors, Aegis staff felt compelled to help. What started with staff members donating to assist survivors in difficult circumstances has since been formalized with the Rebuilding Lives programme. Through it, Aegis aims to bridge the gap for those most in need and care for those who inspire us in our fight against genocide.
‘Rebuilding Lives’ provides access to counseling and medical care, particularly for those deliberately infected by HIV through rape. It helps with practical needs, such as a monthly allowance for basic living costs and housing renovations. It provides training and work experience for orphan heads of households and other young Rwandans through Aegis Trust’s Social Enterprises. And it offers assistance with educational costs such as books, uniforms and tuition fees.
White Rose Society
Launched in Kigali, Rwanda, in August 2012, the White Rose Society exists to underpin the mission of Aegis in preventing genocide, to ensure the sustainability and growth of its work, and to recognise and nurture the Aegis Trust’s increasing family of supporters.
The name ‘White Rose’ was adopted in honour of the student resistance group in Nazi Germany, the White Rose Movement, which became known for a leaflet campaign that called for active opposition to the Hitler regime. The students were betrayed and tried. Aware of the danger, some of the movement’s members bravely used their trials as another opportunity to speak out. Six were executed. While few may face circumstances requiring such bravery, we welcome all who are committed to the values of the White Rose movement: values also demonstrated heroically by rescuers in more recent instances of genocide, such as that in Rwanda 1994.
Individuals and organisations join the White Rose Society when they raise, invest or donate monthly or annually, either to the White Rose Fund to support income generation for Aegis, or directly to the Aegis Trust. There are tiers for membership ranging from under $1,000 to over $100,000.
The Rwanda Chapter of the White Rose Society is chaired by Robert Bayigamba, Rwanda's former Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, now also President of the Rwanda National Olympic Committee. During 2013/2014, chapters will also be established in other countries.