Rwanda empowers women to recover

Anthony Faiola recently spent time in Rwanda and discovered that women are restarting the country’s damaged coffee industry and in the process helping to provide much needed economic stability. He recently discussed his trip on NPR’s Tell Me More.

More than a decade ago, nearly a million people died in the Rwandan genocide. The violence claimed so many men’s lives that it left a gender imbalance that endures today. But that also provided the opportunity for many Rwandan women to take the reins of their country. Washington Post reporter Anthony Faiola discusses Rwanda’s new female leaders.

The most interesting part of Faiola’s message is that Rwanda has been successful because they have empowered women. In a society that used to live with rather traditional African roles, if they had remained unchanged by the genocide, they would likely be struggling with an even greater range of issues.

This is not to belittle the immense problems they are currently having, particularly with engrained prejudices, but clearly one of the biggest challenges in a post-genocide region is economic recovery. Without it, a country is far more likely to destabilize and fall back into violent patterns.

Denial is endemic

While Holocaust denial gets the lion’s share of press when it comes to the subject of “genocide revisionism,” it’s certainly not the only case. In fact, in recent years, as the United States has contemplated recognizing the Armenian genocide, the voices of angered Turks has been added to the cacophony of those who strive to paint history in a different light.

In fact, Gregory Stanton (the president of Genocide Watch) included Denial as the eighth, and final, stage of genocide in the briefing paper he presented to the U.S. State Department in 1996:

Denial is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.

The best response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. Tribunals like the Yugoslav, Rwanda, or Sierra Leone Tribunals, an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and ultimately the International Criminal Court must be created. They may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some mass murderers may be brought to justice.

While Stanton was primarily speaking about “active” cover-ups immediately preceding a genocide, its fascinating (and depressing) that such acts quickly move from action into mainstream discourse. Even when trials have taken place, evidence has been presented, and testimony has been gathered, the crime is still an on-going source of controversy years after the fact.

David Irving is no doubt one of the better known Holocaust deniers, but he’s only one example of the plethora of those who seek to diminish the crime through the guise of scholarly debate. As academics and researchers alike begin to dig deeper into the origins and events of other modern genocides (Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, et al.), a stream of fresh deniers are following along with their own versions of what happened in each of these cases.

For example, it was recently announced that one such group of deniers (called negationists by allAfrica) are heading to a conference later this month — The Media and Rwanda: The Difficult Search for the Truth. The event is being sponsored by Les Editions les Intouchables, who published a book by Canadian Politician Robin Philpot entitled Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali (“It did not happen like that in Kigali”). Based on the reported speakers, the sphere of discourse is going to be largely limited to those who are attempting to revise as they revisit what took place in Rwanda.

Even though Stanton did an excellent job of outlining the various stages of genocide, it seems like the eighth needs to be expanded beyond the immediate vicinity of the crime. As denial is constantly expanding with the pace of scholarship, and it often grows rather than diminishes over time, it seems apt to address the problem, particularly considering the rate at which the information age has accelerated the course of such specialized revisionism.

USC to tackle Rwandan genocide

The University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education announced it will start recording Rwandan survivor testimony in the coming months.

Next month, the institute’s executive director, Douglas Greenberg, will travel to Rwanda to begin organizing a project with IBUKA, the umbrella organization for all of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide survivor groups. Greenberg and IBUKA plan to interview Rwandan survivors about their experiences during the genocide.

Greenberg said these visual testimonies will be available on the institute’s online archive, the largest of its kind in the world, to educate people about the harmful effects of prejudice.

As someone who’s preparing to pursue a PhD in genocide studies (with a particular interest in Africa) I have to applaud USC’s efforts. It’s impossible to do a comparative analysis of genocides without intensive primary source material, and in many cases modern genocides don’t come with the kind of methodical documentation used by the Nazis, putting the onus on survivor and witness testimony.

Rwandan survivor sues Belgium

A survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwandan has taken the unusual step of filing a civil lawsuit against the Belgium government. The suit is being brought against the government for withdrawing the soldiers who were protecting her family during the height of the violence.

The summon underlines responsibility of Belgium soldiers in the massacre of approximately 2, 000 Rwandans who had placed themselves under the protection of the peacekeepers at the Official Technical School (ETO) Don Bosco, situated in Kicukiro. The ETO was at the time one of the main barracks, nicknamed “Beverly Hills”, of the Belgian battalion of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) headquartered in Kigali.

The plaintiff and her family had found refuge there on 8 April, just two days after the bloodbath began on April 6 following assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana.

“It was decided by Colonel Marchal, then head of the Belgian battalion KIBAT of the UNAMIR to withdraw during the afternoon of 11 April 1994 peacekeepers(92) from ETO,” claimed the summon.

It added:” By abandoning Rwandan refugees who were there and the fact that the site was encircled by armed militiamen (Interahamwe) of which everyone, including the Belgian soldiers knew that they [Interahamwe] were going to proceed to commit the massacres.”

Belgium decided to withdraw its contingent of UNAMIR peacekeepers following the assassination of ten of its soldiers on 7 April 1994.

The various charges that may result from the trial would likely include violations of international humanitarian law and the “omission to act” to prevent murder, extermination, and persecution of an ethnic group.

Rwandan teachers suspended

Following Rwanda’s recent report that a “genocide ideology” was permeating the public school system, the Minister of Education has suspended 50 teachers who may be responsible.

“According to official sources, the Minister of Education Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya last week suspended 50 or so head teachers, teachers and curriculum developers accused of facilitating the ‘ideology of genocide’ in their establishments,” Liprodhor indicated on its website.

Almost 15 years later, anti-Tutsi messages stemming from the education system were still being unearthed.

“Tutsis are snakes, we’re sick of them and we will kill them,” reads a copybook taken from Mataba secondary school in Province du Nord.

Even though the parliamentary committee was unsatisfied with Minister Mujawamariya’s explanation for the earlier report, they have yet to schedule a follow-up session on the 400 page document.

Rwandans battle genocide ideology

Since the 1994 genocide, Rwandans have been struggling to separate themselves from the course that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Unfortunately, as a recent parliamentary probe revealed, the country is still awash in sentiments of hatred and division.

The probe was established in August to investigate claims that survivors or children of survivors were being regularly harassed. The study examined 32 secondary schools and found that 97 percent exhibited cases of “genocide ideology.”

Damning details of rampant of genocide ideology were equally unearthed at Ecole Secondaire de Gaseke. There, the six-man Chamber of Deputies’ probe team, found widespread cases of anonymous genocide-fuelling letters, with some reading ‘Musenge n’ubwo tutabatema tuzabaroga kandi muzapfa nabi’ (pray because even if we don’t cut you in pieces, we shall bewitch you), ‘Murabeshya tuzongera tubaganze kandi tuzongera tubice kuko niyo ntego – mwa ba Tutsi mwe, twabibutsaga’ (You Tutsis we shall ultimately kill you again, because that is our mission – that’s a reminder).

In that same school, the MPs led by Donatilla Mukabalisa told their colleagues during a plenary session on Monday, that they found writings similar to the infamous ten Hutu commandments, which were published in the former extremist Kangura newspaper, in the run up to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.

The report indicated that subsequent to the continued hostile agenda targeting Genocide survivor students at Ecole Secondaire de Gaseke, district and the school authorities, transferred some of the most targeted students to other schools, while one was made to become a day scholar.

Threatening anonymous letters were also found in other schools where genocide ideology was found to be rampant including Groupe Scolaire de Shyogwe in Muhanga District, Southern Province; Ecole Secondaire de Mudasomwa in Nyamagabe District, Southern Province; Ecole Secondaire de Taba in Gatsibo District, Eastern Province; Groupe Scolaire de Muhura in Gatsibo District and Ecole Secondaire de Tumba in Rulindo District, Northern Province.

The harassment and segregation is not only being carried out by the students, however, but by the teachers and administrators as well.

In one case, for example , Association pour la Culture, l’Education et le Developpement Integre (ACEDI) de Mataba, a school in Gakenke District, Northern Province, school authorities introduced uniforms for Genocide survivor students, which were different from other students’.

Societal backlashes are historically common following genocidal outbreaks and it’s not surprising to find Rwanda still grappling with these issues thirteen years later; the fact that parliament is looking into instances of racial division and any ideology that could lead to another outbreak of violence is encouraging.

As MP Specioza Mukandutiye correctly stated during a report on the hearing, “we have campaigns to fight against HIV/Aids, we should also have similar campaigns directed towards fighting the ideologies of genocide and divisionism among Rwandans.”

Kigali Memorial Centre opens

The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre announced their opening on Tuesday as the first research and postgraduate teaching institute for Genocide prevention.

The study program will be open to undergraduates and postgraduates studying all aspects of human rights and conflict prevention, running both teaching seminars and giving access to primary research resources for doctorate and masters students, the centre said in a statement.

Craig Cowbrough from the Centre told RNA separately that it is expected the new centre will be operational by the end of February next year.

The center sits on a site where 258,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide are buried, and will include the histories of some 38,000 survivors and their families. You can find their website at kigalimemorialcentre.org.

Genocide should have priority

“We must agree, at a continental level to start with, on the menu for action in case of the threat of genocide. What non coercive measures to take, the threshold for intervention, and the operational principles in the case of intervention in advancement of human security. We must determine that genocide is a threat to our collective security, and give it the priority it deserves in our institutional security architecture at national, regional and continental level. We must move it from the margins of the security agenda to the centre, and mobilize the requisite resources for it.”

— President Paul Kagame’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Ambassador Richard Sezibera, speaking at a five day workshop for the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa.

Dallaire blames France for Rwanda

Romeo Dallaire, the former general and head of UN peacekeeping forces, stated during a war crimes hearing that France is largely responsible for the genocide that took place in Rwanda.

Testifying at the trial of Desire Munyaneza, a failed refugee claimant on trial for participating in the genocide, Dallaire said the French “push-back” force ended up helping the killers escape into neighbouring Congo.

Dallaire argued that France should have been supporting the UN forces that were already on the ground rather than bringing in their own humanitarian troops who acted under their own guidelines.