Nov. 16-29, 2001
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Senate highlights work of Harrison undergraduate researchers
Deans slow new spending
Photos show aftermath of Rwandan genocide
Q&A: Ayers builds future on founder's model

Martin: Immigration laws need to be realistic

Medical Center reaches settlement
Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
Play explores the foibles of greed
Campaign pleas for local charity support
Hot Links -- With Good Reason
Sheer images
Poet and editor R.T. Smith to read at U.Va. Nov. 29

Photos show aftermath of Rwandan genocide

By Matt Kelly

The pictures are stark, brutal: rows of bleached human skulls, a dried skeleton still wearing a football jersey, cows grazing on a mass grave.

crosses mark massive gravesite
Ryann Collins
Crosses mark the site of a massive grave where hundreds of Rwandans were murdered.

U.Va. student Ryann Collins, 22, captured the images in Rwanda this year while interviewing survivors of the 1994 ethnic violence there. Collins, a foreign affairs major and a Harrison grant winner, was an intern with the United Nations’ genocide tribunal from January to July, taking statements from survivors for the prosecutors preparing cases against members of Rwanda’s 1994 government. She was a legal intern, though she had no legal training or experience.

The people she found were mostly devastated by what had happened to them.

“I had mixed feelings as I was interviewing the witnesses,” said Collins. “They had been raped, seen their families slaughtered, and now they had AIDs and internal bleeding and all they wanted was an aspirin for their headache.

“They don’t care. They’ve had these people do these things to them and they live the harshest lives. What the tribunal sought was insignificant in comparison to what they needed.”

Collins said that 10 percent of the population, 800,000 to 1 million people, were killed with machetes and hoes in 100 days.

Collins grew up in Switzerland, France and New Jersey, the daughter of an AT&T employee. In her first spring at U.Va., a friend from New Jersey died, leaving her the feeling that life is precious and fragile.

“I realized I could die at any moment, so I wanted to do something exotic,” she said. “Africa seemed exotic.”

Collins, with a self-described passion for human rights, applied for the internship almost as a lark. She had spent time in Tanzania in 1998, before the embassy bombing, teaching English to primary school students in a rural area.

By the time she received notice of her acceptance from the U.N., she was not sure if she still wanted to go. She took a long walk around a lake in France with her father as she slowly broke the news to him. He tried to talk her out of it, but eventually acquiesced, reasoning that he was familiar with Africa and had friends there in case she got into trouble.

The U.N. dictated when students could participate, telling Collins that she would be there from January to July. She took a few classes last fall, took leave for the spring and is finishing up her degree this year.

She applied for her Harrison grant after she had been accepted in the intern program. “That $3,000 covered my living expenses in Africa,” she said.

A self-taught photographer, she said it had not been her intent to take pictures when she left. Once there, though, she wanted to share her experience with the world, overcoming feelings that she was disrespecting the dead by taking their pictures.

“There I was, in Nikes and jeans and ball cap, in a country I don’t belong in or understand, taking pictures like it was an art show,” she said. “I decided to bring it back, to tell these people’s stories. That made it seem OK to me.”

It has turned into an art show, with Collins exhibiting her photographs at Fayerweather Gallery. She has also toyed with the idea of putting her photos and experiences together into a book.

Working for the U.N. had many benefits, Collins said, such as access to health care and diplomatic immunity. The only American among 15 international interns, she lived with five others, forming fast friendships.

Collins said she wants to continue to pursue her interest in human rights, working for the State Department, or the U.N. or the Red Cross, or as a journalist.


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of the University of Virginia

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