An appeal has been made to the international community to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide by backing reparations for survivors.
The then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, former US President Bill Clinton and Belgium have issued apologies for failing to stop the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people died.
But more than 300,000 survivors still face severe trauma, HIV infection through rape, and loss of land and property, David Russell of the UK charity SURF (Survivors Fund), told a meeting at London’s King’s College last week.
The UN General Assembly has passed resolutions calling for UN agencies to provide help, “yet such calls have largely gone unheeded,” he said.
“In fact, there is no framework for reparative justice for survivors of the genocide, either in Rwanda or internationally,” he pointed out.
Russell compared UN aid for survivors’ in Rwanda of less than $1 million with the $1 billion spent by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) – more than $30 million per conviction.
The point was hammered home by Alphonsine Kabagabo, vice chair of SURF at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament on the same day.
“Many survivors are still without shelter, without support to develop livelihoods and in need of assistance to bury relatives. Some survivors are still threatened with violence by former perpetrators,” she warned.
She said SURF had helped 100,000 survivors, mainly widows and orphans, with help from Comic Relief, the Lottery Fund and Britain’s aid department. Thousands of lives had been saved thanks to UK government support for a large-scale HIV programme.
Yet, “Twenty Years on, there is quite simply not enough funding to address their ongoing critical needs at scale.”
SURF and seven survivor-led organisations in Rwanda are now focussing on reparations and the establishment of an International Trust Fund to support survivors. An International Organization of Migration report on its feasibility, commissioned by the ICTR, is expected this year.
“The 20th anniversary of the genocide and the closure of the ICTR … is a unique opportunity to address the issue of reparation and call for an explicit form of reparative justice for survivors to be prioritised through funding from agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations, or through voluntary contributions from Governments and the international community,” says Russell.
He described it as “a once-in-a-generation moment to realise the right to reparation of survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. “
“The international community largely ignored their plight 20 years ago. This is a unique opportunity to address the ongoing needs of survivors today, before it is too late again.” End
* Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now, a free exhibition of images of everyday life that seeks to communicate the complexities of survival after mass violence is on show at Somerset House in London until 30 April. See OneWorld’s London Events page
By Nelson Daniel