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Rwanda’s 19th genocide commemoration: Peace-building education to be expanded from Kigali Genocide Memorial

President Paul Kagame lights a flame that will burn for the next 100 days

President Paul Kagame lights a flame that will burn for the next 100 days

Leading Rwanda’s national commemoration of the 1994 genocide, held today at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, President Kagame laid a wreath at mass graves containing the remains of some 250,000 victims before lighting the flame that will burn in front of the Memorial for the next 100 days – the duration of the slaughter in which approximately one million Tutsis were murdered.

Following the lighting of the flame, President Kagame visited a new ‘Peace room’ at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where students including the children of survivors and perpetrators take part in peace-building education. There he viewed a mobile exhibition created by the Aegis Trust to take this education programme into Rwanda’s rural communities.

“Peace-building education at the Kigali Genocide Memorial inspires young people to promote unity in their schools and communities,” says Dr James Smith, Chief Executive of the Aegis Trust, which established the memorial in partnership with the Rwandan authorities in 2004. “In time, we hope the experience of peace education here will offer a model from which other countries too can benefit.”

“Enabling students across Rwanda to have this learning opportunity is vital for the future of our country,” says Freddy Mutanguha, Country Director for Aegis in Rwanda. “Applying lessons from the past to prevent division and violence in the future is perhaps the most important way in which to honour the memory of the communities and loved ones we so tragically lost.”

The peace-building education programme was developed by Aegis in partnership with Rwanda’s Ministry of Education and supported by VSO, the UK’s Department for International Development and the Canadian International Development Agency. A new national programme has been developed with a number of national and international partners, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The programme was profiled last month by the London Guardian.

Source: AEGIS

April 7, 2013   No Comments

Rwanda genocide survivors struggle to rebuild their lives

Jacqueline Murekatete

Jacqueline Murekatete

Waking up one day to hear that her entire family had been slaughtered sounded like a horror movie to Jacqueline Murekatete. And yet it happened to her and scores of men, women and children in the east African nation of Rwanda some 19 years ago. From 4 April 1994, close to a million Tutsi ethnic minorities and some moderate Hutus were hacked to death in a killing spree that lasted for about 100 days. Hutu extremists were behind the brutal murders.

Jacqueline was only nine years old then. She survived because she was in another village visiting her grandmother. From there, she sought refuge in an Italian missionary. Her journey ended in the United States, where an uncle adopted her. Over the years, she has shared her story to educate people about crimes of genocide and mass atrocities. In her opinion, genocide is the greatest crime that a human being could commit against another. “I believe it is a grave injustice because you are being killed simply because of the way you were born. I did not choose to be a Tutsi.”

Survivors’ struggle

It is her fight against intolerance and indifference that led her to team up with Miracle Corners of the World (MCW), a youth empowerment organization, after her undergraduate studies. In 2007, she launched her own MCW Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, a genocide prevention programme. Murekatete uses the platform to educate people about genocide and to raise funds for Rwandan survivors. Rwandan authorities say there are about 300,000 to 400,000 survivors of genocide in the country, and 40,000 of them are without shelter.

Today Jacqueline is recognized internationally for her work as a youth leader and a humanitarian. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Global Peace and Tolerance Award from the United Nations. In a Rwandan-themed café in mid-town Manhattan, surrounded by her native art work and the familiar smell of the Arabica coffee bean, Jacqueline told Africa Renewal that she was one of the lucky ones. She was able to escape, get an education and a job.

“Nineteen years later, many [survivors] are still dealing with the consequences [of genocide]; a lot of them are still fighting to get their properties back,” she says. This is in addition to other physical ailments and mental trauma they are undergoing. Many are destitute, she adds. The most vulnerable are orphans, widows and rape victims. According to UNICEF, there are more than a million orphans in Rwanda, from a population of about 12 million.

Her organization built a youth community centre in Bugesera, a district in eastern Rwanda and home to two memorial sites. Just 40 kilometres away from the capital, Kigali, Bugesera is said to have lost half of its population to genocide. The community centre offers income-generating and educational programmes from learning English, to skills in plumbing, sewing and information technology.

Imperfect justice

With the closing in 2014 of the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda set up following the genocide, Murekatete is already thinking ahead. She is working with the UK-based Survivors’ Fund to set up an international trust fund to help genocide victims. The fund will operate along the same lines with the one run by International Criminal Court in The Hague. So far the Rwandan tribunal, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, has convicted and sentenced 65 people, with 17 pending appeals and 12 acquitted. Nine suspects are still at large.

Meanwhile, Rwanda’s community courts, known as “Gacaca”, completed their work last year. The courts were created to speed up the prosecution of perpetrators. During the hearings, accused persons would often confess to the killings in exchange for a reduced sentence or an amnesty. The courts have, however, failed to compensate survivors for their losses, laments Murekatete. “We realize that this is a critical time for us with the closing of the [Rwandan tribunal] and Gacaca trials,” she says, “We want to make sure that survivors will not be forgotten, people have to realize there is still a lot of work to do.”

‘Never again’

This year’s anniversary of the Rwanda genocide is on 7 April. For Murekatete, “this period of mourning is not just about Rwanda. We have to remember the genocide with the realization that it can happen anywhere.” She is alarmed by the mass atrocities that continue to be perpetrated around the world, as she puts it: “Darfur is still happening. Syria is happening. Congo is happening.” Despite this, she believes progress has been made, citing the dynamic and influential campaigns led by school kids and universities around the world against genocide in Darfur. She also cites the recent statement issued by the United States to declare genocide prevention “a core national security interest” and moral responsibility. “I think that was a very powerful statement to make because a lot of these things happened because countries didn’t feel it was in their national interest. I think that is progress.”

So as she takes part in the ceremonies and events to honour the victims of the 1994 genocide, her thoughts are with her late family, especially her month-old little brother. She no longer asks herself “why me?” but what she can do “to leave the world a better place.”

Source:  Africa Renewal

April 7, 2013   No Comments

Nyagatare residents to cement on reconciliation during Genocide Commemoration Week

On Sunday, 7th April this year, Rwandans will mark the 19th commemoration of the genocide against Tutsi.

Though 19 years down the road, the scars, trauma and other horrific memories are still engulfing the lives of many Rwandans especially survivors who escaped the horror that rocked the country in a hundred days.

After the genocide, the government of Rwanda started yet another war of rebuilding the country. On its reconstruction agenda, unity and reconciliation was among the top priorities for the country that had faced massive hatred among its citizens.

In Nyagatare District, residents say, the government policy has been tremendously implemented.

“As we commemorate the genocide against Tutsi, we celebrate many achievements attained as a result of good leadership but amongst all, we hail the reconciliation progress we have made in the last 19 years. This is seen in the way we work together and help each other regardless of one’s origin or colour,” said Landoward Mugema, a resident of Karama sector.

According to Mugema, who was born and raised in the area, it was a dream for one to believe that Rwandans will once live as one.

“I am a genocide survivor who lost many relatives. We were hurt by the mass killings that left our brothers and sisters dead. We didn’t have more hope of reconciling with our perpetrators. But the government helped us regain that hope and we are living together with them.”

Marriete Mukamuhizi, another genocide survivor in Mimuri sector, now lives a role model life after publicly announcing her reconciliation with Jean Marie Uwimana, a genocide convict who killed her husband during the genocide.

“It was not easy to forgive him. But after consecutive reconciliation meetings I attended, I got a heart to forget everything and focus on living a harmonious life,” she said.

In an interview, the District vice mayor in charge of social affairs, Charlotte Musabyimana said that the District has been involved in massive campaign to promote unity and reconciliation.

“One of the most priorities we put forward is putting residents in a mood of feeling one. We do this through meetings at village levels where residents sit and discuss issues related to reconciliation,” she said.

This year’s genocide commemoration week will be held on village levels countrywide.

Source: All Africa

April 7, 2013   No Comments