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What is going on in Rwanda today?

April 6, 2012

Today it will be 18 years after the genocide but the country only started recovering from the impact of this violent bloody conflict. Lets go one step back to the events of 1994 in Rwanda.
Trigger of the 100 days lasting genocide was the shoot down of the airplane bringing the current president of Rwanda back to the capital, Kigali, after negotiations with rebels.

The history of Rwanda is long with some unusual turn points. The killing was blamed on different parties for example on the Belgian colonial masters but the genocide was well planned and kicked of on purpose: in the following days over 500.000 were killed for sure and estimates talk about up to 1 million which equals nearly 20 % of the country’s population. Over 2 million people fled over the borders to Zaire (today: Republic of Congo) but the conflict was not over and did not stop at borders, aid workers were not able to separate guilty from innocent people and the situation was on the edge to escalate again every day.

Christopher Ayres, former UN lawyer and now professor at Berlin School of Economics and Law was so kind to answer some questions about Rwanda back then and today.

  1. When have you been in Rwanda/ Africa?
    From 1994 to 2005.
  2. What was your job there? Why have you been send there?
    I went there originally as a lawyer for the U.N. in 1994 and when the U.N. left in early 1996 I stayed on to support a shelter for genocide survivor among other things.
  3. How was the normal day life before/during/after the conflict time?
    Daily life was filled with supplying basic necessities, fetching water, food, medicine, housing and protecting families and individuals threatened by ethnic and other forms of violence.
  4. What could have been done better by the international society in dealing with the genocide?
    No party to the Convention on Genocide paid any attention to the obligation to intervene when it was established that a genocide was occurring. Therefore, it was more a question not of what could have been done, but what was not done in spite of member country’s voluntary earlier agreement to step in to prevent or stop a genocide.
  5. How do you see the role of law during the recent development in this region? What is your evaluation about the ICTR?
    When countries don’t meet their obligations under the Convention on Genocide (requiring them to intervene) they are left only to punish. Of course by that time, the damage is done. In this case, the damage done if of historical proportions. Prosecutions, while important, may be view as one sided, i.e., targeting only Hutu killers while failing to prosecute Rwandan Patriotic Army individuals responsible human rights violations.
  6. How do you see the latest UN-reports about Rwanda? Is it true that they changed the first official version because of political pressure from Rwanda?
    If you are speaking about the report on Rwanda’s activities involving human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, all sources indicate that the report – which accused post-genocide Rwanda of committing grave human rights violations including genocide – was delayed and modified owing to pressure from Rwanda. The pressure included threatening to remove Rwandan peace-keeping forces from Darfur, Sudan.
  7. How does the situation in Rwanda effect neighbouring states?
    All states in the region have been drawn into conflicts in varying degrees stemming from events in Rwanda.
  8. What is your opinion about movies made about the genocide (Hotel Rwanda, Sometimes in April, 100 days)? Do they get to the root of the conflict and how true are they?
    Sometimes in April is a credible work.
    While Hotel Rwanda helped bring attention to the genocide well after the fact to much of the world, the man at the center of the film who is said by some to have helped scores of Tutsi survive (on the one hand), and been characterized as opportunistic by Tutsi (on the other – he is Hutu). There is much controversy surrounding the film. The person who gave the film its title, one of the producers told me, “fiction is as fiction does,” indicating that the film can’t be taken, even by its makers, as a true representation of events in 1994. Sometimes in April on the other captures much of what it was and is like in Rwanda.
  9. How do you see the current situation?
    The current situation is one of tight control.
  10. How stable is Rwanda?
    Given its history, as you might expect it is ruled with a heavy authoritarian hand, which implies a form of imposed stability wherein the penalties for not conforming to government demands are harsh.
  11. What interests does the international community have in an economically strong Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda? None of the three are anything approaching economic strength. All are very poor countries with a handful of rich citizens. The international community approach to remedying impoverishment, i.e., government to government aid and loans, World Bank and IMF loans, multinational corporation investment, have done little if anything to improve conditions. Some, including a well known African economist, argue that such aid and loans are indeed responsible for the perpetuation of poverty in the region.

These answers provide at least me with a lot of stuff to think of. First of all, why the nations who signed the convention against genocide did not react on to warnings about possible actions? After 100 days of slaughter, what can be left?

Clear is that something changed after the genocide but there is still a lot of violence and instability in this region. The borders to their neighbouring states are not respected in order to gain profit out of rare earth materials. There are still acts against humanity and different courts still try to figure out who to blame. Even 18 years afterwards most of the facts are still blurred. And some might never get clear – to many people have interest in covering up and the passing time makes this even easier. We might never know.

If you want to experience the emotional aspect I really recommend you the movie “Sometimes in April”. It covers the key points of the development and is really close to what eye witnesses saw.

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