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by Aimable Twahirwa

Should The Bones Of Rwanda Be Silenced?

(IPS) KIGALI -- More than a decade after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the government and survivors alike are grappling with the question of compensating victims of the tragedy.

Upwards of 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in the killing spree, which began after a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Rwanda's capital -- Kigali -- on April 6, 1994.

Since then, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has been set up in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha to bring the alleged masterminds of the genocide to justice, while Rwandan courts have struggled to try the huge number of persons accused of carrying out the killings. (Hutu militants and members of the Rwandan army are held largely responsible for conducting the massacres.)

Those who survived the genocide are still awaiting reparations, however, says Fran¨ois Ngarambe, president of Ibuka ("Remember," in Kinyarwanda) -- one of the main non-governmental organizations for genocide survivors. This is despite numerous promises of government help with school fees for orphans, medical assistance and housing for poor survivors.

"We are sick of continuing to hear unrealistic promises made by politicians who have little sense of our suffering," said Marie Claire Murorunkwere, a Tutsi genocide widow from Ngoma, a district in the east of the country.

Adds Jean Glaubert Burasa, director of publication for Rushyashya, a bi-weekly newspaper in Kigali: "This refusal to compensate the survivors is another way of humiliating victims, and supporting those responsible for the genocide."

Rwanda's authorities admit the call for reparations presents a dilemma.

"The Rwandan government is not in a position today to promise what it will never have the means to deliver," Edda Mukabagwiza, minister of justice and institutional relations, told IPS.

Simply listing the victims, their physical and psychological injuries and the goods destroyed is a huge task that the Rwandan government cannot take on alone, notes Mukabagwiza.

Faced with government's limitations in the matter of compensation, certain associations for genocide victims have started raising money to do it themselves. These include the Association of Genocide Widows of April 1994 (l'Association des veuves du genocide d'avril 1994, AVEGA) which last year began making small decorative baskets to export to the American market.

Named "Basket of Peace," the project has received support from Canada. About 200 women are participating in the initiative, including genocide widows and women whose husbands are in prison on genocide charges, AVEGA president Bellancille Umukobwa told IPS.

Josephine Nyirantwali is one of those who has benefited from "Basket of Peace." Previously, she depended entirely on aid of $60 a month provided by the Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors, set up by government in 1998.

Today, however, Nyirantwali is able to support herself. "It's the sad experience of the past that gave me the courage to stand in solidarity with my other colleagues," she said.

Donatille Mukagakwaya, a Hutu woman whose jailed husband stands accused of helping to carry out the genocide, voices similar sentiments.

"We are not responsible for what happened in Rwanda. Our husbands are in detention, and we cannot predict what will happen tomorrow. We therefore need to join forces to meet the needs of our families," she said.

According to Mandiaye Niang, special councilor at the ICTR, the United Nations Security Council has discussed setting up a special fund to compensate genocide victims, on the basis of individual or collective demands.

"The ICTR could eventually be given a new responsibility to coordinate compensation to victims who have appeared before it as witnesses," he said.

The tribunal has already launched a program to assist witnesses in Rwanda.

The first phase of this initiative, which began in September 2000, included legal advice, psychological counseling and physical rehabilitation.

A second phase involved financial aid for a resettlement program.

According to ICTR spokesman Tim Gallimore, the tribunal has contributed 15 percent of financing (about $52,000) toward the initial cost of construction for 23 houses in the "Village of Peace" in Kamonyi, a district in central Rwanda.

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Albion Monitor   April 20, 2006   (

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