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Report from Rwanda: Rebuilding in the Wake of Catastrophe by Shirley Randell

Legislating Against Gender-based Violence

A major achievement for Rwanda was the Gender-based Violence Law in July 2008. The law took less than three years to pass and involved enormous efforts by the Rwandan Association of Women Parliamentarians, the entire Parliament, activists, development partners and countless Rwandan citizens.

Of course, the work is not over—experience shows that a law’s existence does not necessarily mean its implementation. The challenge now is its proper, timely and just implementation by the criminal justice system and relevant departments, and communication for social change to prevent gender-based crimes in the first place.

Revealing France’s Role in the 1994 Genocide

Rwanda’s Commission of Inquiry into the role of France in the genocide of 1994 published its findings following two years’ work listening to 638 witness testimonials, including survivors and perpetrators.

The Commission found that some French politicians, diplomats and military leaders were complicit in the genocide, and that French authorities knowingly aided and abetted what happened by training Hutu militia and devising strategies for Rwanda’s armed forces. Also, the French gave trained and funded Rwandan intelligence services on how to establish a database, later used to create the “kill list” of Tutsis.

Thirty thousand unemployed youth were mobilised into a murderous militia called the Interahamw. They were indoctrinated with anti-Tutsi racism and trained to kill with agricultural tools. There were no secret death camps—the killing took place in broad daylight. Survivors say French soldiers participated in the massacres of Tutsis while on an alleged humanitarian mission, Operation Turquoise in the last weeks of the 100 day genocide.

I attended the recent launch of Illuminee Nganemariya’s book, Miracle in Kigali: the Rwandan Genocide—A Survivor’s Journey. The work is a heartwrenching account of how Nganemariya and her newborn baby miraculously escaped death. It is well worth reading.

Second Parliamentary Elections

Rwanda’s second parliamentary elections since the 1994 genocide took place on September 15-18, 2008. Women secured 45 out of the 80 available seats, making the incoming parliament the first in the world to have women in the majority—56.2 percent.

Rwanda’s constitution provides a 30 percent minimum quota for women in parliament, translating to 24 seats. In the run-up to the election, gender advocates called on parties not only to have equal representation of women and men in their party lists but also to position women close to the top to ensure that whatever their respective results, women leaders would emerge.

The ruling party in Rwanda’s government, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, placed a woman at the head of its list and, of the 42 seats it won, 17 went to women. Of the additional three seats won for women in the general election, two went to the Social Democratic Party and one to the Liberal Party.

The European Union’s observer mission’s preliminary report said the elections were generally well organised and held in a peaceful and calm environment. Approximately 98.5 percent of the 4,769,228 registered voters participated. Rwanda’s achievement outshines that of wealthy countries with huge investments in gender equality spanning decades, and it demystifies the perception that poverty or underdevelopment equals women’s marginalisation and disempowerment. All countries can raise women’s status with political will.

Rwanda is the first African country to meet the 50 percent quota as stipulated in the African Union’s Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The protocol says parties shall act to promote participative governance and equal participation of women in the political life of their countries through affirmative action, national legislation and other means.

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