Tarrant County Chief Medical Examiner Visits SMU

February 18, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Dr. Nizam Peerwani (center) was invited by SMU's Muslim Student Association to speak on human rights. (PHOTO BY KATIE HORNER / THE DAILY MUSTANG)

Dr. Nizam Peerwani (center) was invited by SMU's Muslim Student Association to speak on human rights. (PHOTO BY KATIE HORNER / THE DAILY MUSTANG)

By Katie Horner

Dr. Nizam Peerwani inspired his audience Wednesday evening with his lecture on his involvement with human rights during the first weekly IQRA series of the semester from the Muslim Student Association.

As chief medical examiner for Tarrant County, Peerwani works closely with organizations like Physicians for Human Rights.

PHR places health professionals where they are needed to help promote wellness and support human rights.

As a forensic pathologist, Peerwani examines the cause of death of those who may have been killed unjustly.

Samaiya Mushtaq, who is vice president of the MSA and liaison for the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, believed Peerwani’s involvement with human rights would draw in a diverse crowd.

“He appeals to so many people,” said Mushtaq. “On one hand he is Muslim, so that appeals to our faith. On the other hand he is a doctor so we thought he would draw an audience with a wide range on interests.”

Southern Methodist University pre-med students and members of the MSA listened attentively as Peerwani shared his experiences such as his findings in Rwanda.

Peerwani and the Rwanda Genocide

In the 1994 Rwanda massacre, Peerwani was flown to a Roman Catholic church and St. Jean complex by helicopter to inspect a mass grave.

He and his team set up a mobile autopsy tent, exam tables on the pews of the church, temporary showers and bathrooms.

They were the only place within 777 square miles with running hot and cold water.

“The smell of dead bodies is on your hands and the only way to get rid of it is with steamy hot water,” said Peerwani. “We examined some 39 bodies that remained on the surface.”

Most bodies were dumped into a mass grave 50 feet deep.

Their job was then to look at the bodies and perform gender and age analysis, as well as look at the distribution of killings.

“If they were shot from behind it is silly to think they were combating, and if an infant was shot it is silly to think a baby would be in a combat situation,” said Peerwani.

Many machete wounds were found and rare gun shot wounds were found that caused blunt force trauma in 300 of the bodies, which is consistent with massacre killing.

The Human Rights Initiative

Peerwani became interested in human rights 15 years ago during a speech Robert Kirschner gave about brain chemistry changes related with shaking baby syndrome.

Kirschner later involved Peerwani with the his first human rights case, the Aguas Blanca Massacre, which took place in June of 1995 in Guerrero, Mexico.

The mission was aborted when they could not get permission to do an autopsy.

“Genocide is a loaded word,” said Peerwani. “It really implies two things. It should be a large-scale killing and a killing motivated by racial or religious hatred.

MSA treasurer Nafees Ahmed said, “Dr. Peerwani’s presentation was eye-opening in showing how simply opening yourself up to do human rights work opens doors and the possibility to help prevent awful crimes against humanity from repeating themselves.”

Pre-med students were also moved after Peerwani’s presentation.

Uju Rochas, a bio-chemistry pre-med student, especially enjoyed the quote Peerwani left his audience with by John Wesley.

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

– John Wesley

“Overwhelming” Sets New Tone for SMU Theatre

September 24, 2008 by · Comments Off 

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So “The Overwhelming” is opening Wednesday night…

September 23, 2008 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Christy Vutam

I was hoping to watch the dress rehearsal for “The Overwhelming” tonight, but I wasn’t able to get to the Margo Jones’ theatre on time. I did pop in during intermission to chat with my former professor, Charley Helfert, and he said audiences should come into the play cold. I was taken aback – he usually emphasizes knowing the background on plays so you don’t get lost. But, according to him, the play’s kind of about making sense of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. If you know what happened in Rwanda, he said, you’re going to lose out on the intended experience.

Well, then, I guess it was a good thing I didn’t watch that Oscar-nominated movie, “Hotel Rwanda” with Don Cheadle and that I’m like a lot of Americans: ignorant on history and foreign affairs.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about “The Overwhelming” from various people, and I look forward to catching the opening Wednesday at 8 p.m. The play runs through Sunday in the Margo Jones’ theatre.