The 18th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide was commemorated in April in Rwanda and around the world. Many proclamations were issued, expressions of sympathy made, and hopes for the future expressed.
As happens every year, solidarity with genocide survivors was expressed but very little was done to actually meet their needs and help them to realise their human rights.
No doubt many expressions of solidarity were genuine and deeply felt. But survivors need more than kind words to realise their human rights.
Such sentiments do not provide a home for a homeless widowed survivor of the genocide, an education and pathway out of poverty for an orphaned survivor of the genocide, or healthcare for a female survivor of the genocide who contracted HIV as a result of rape during the genocide.
Survivors who have been traumatised by their experiences remain traumatized despite the sincerest expressions of compassion, and those who were robbed of their property and resources continue to be bereft of the material foundations for a dignified life.
One of the most demoralising realities genocide survivors have faced and with which they continue to struggle is that the international community, the United Nations, national and bilateral aid agencies, and the range of development organisations and NGOs working in Rwanda have largely failed to acknowledge and adequately respond to their needs.
The UK is a commendable exception in certain instances. The Department for International Development has given and continues to give generously to meet the needs of survivors. It provides financial support for holistic outreach programs incorporating HIV-AIDS treatment, education, vocational training, housing improvement and construction, psychological counseling, and legal aid to secure property that is rightfully theirs.
SURF, Survivor’s Fund, a UK based NGO remains the primary organisation devoted to the rights and welfare of Rwandan genocide survivors and works closely with a number of community based survivor organisations that seek to empower genocide survivors and improve their lives.
Still, despite these positive efforts, there remains a major gap in the needs of survivors and the resources being made available to them.
This gap must urgently be closed.
It is time that the United Nations creates a dedicated voluntary trust fund for survivors of the Rwandan genocide. This trust fund would provide a central address for aid agencies and governments to channel funds to address survivor needs and create programs that specifically address their unique circumstances. It would draw attention to the needs of survivors and encourage member states of the UN to devote resources to their welfare.
A UN Trust Fund would play an important role in coordinating programming designed to meet their needs, investing resources in programs for survivors, and creating measurable, outcomes based standards in key domains of healthcare, housing, education, trauma counseling, vocational training and job creation that would set programming benchmarks to ensure that survivors are benefiting from quality programming that will enable them to realise their human rights.
UN Trust Funds are voluntary instruments which are often established to address the needs of a vulnerable population that requires focused support and whose needs may be overlooked by the UN system. Trust Funds exist at the UN for indigenous peoples, women suffering from abuse, victims of human trafficking, and victims of slavery. Trust Funds also exist to help the governments of countries rebuilding after conflict.
The United Nations General Assembly has issued repeated resolutions calling for UN agencies to provide support for genocide survivors but these have gone largely unheeded. These include UN General Assembly Resolution 59/137 of December 4, 2004, resolution 60/225 of December of 2005 calling for ‘Assistance to Survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, Particularly Orphans, Widows, and Victims of Sexual Violence’ and a more recent resolution on December 22, 2009 ‘to encourage relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes to provide assistance in the areas of education, medical care, skills training and microcredit programmes aimed at promoting self-sufficiency.’
Until a Trust Fund is in place to provide a coherent framework for realizing these resolutions they will – like the annual statements of solidarity made during Rwanda’s genocide commemorations – be ephemeral words without tangible life affirming properties.
There is no framework for restorative justice for survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Although the United Nations has spent over one billion dollars on the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute the genocide’s top organisers and implementers it has spent not even 1% of that budget on caring for the surviving victims of the genocide.
The International Criminal Court – to its credit – includes restorative justice in its remit and has distributed millions of dollars worth of support to development and reparation programs for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda and Congo.
However, there is no such mechanism at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. A dedicated UN Trust Fund for survivors of the Rwandan genocide would be one way of addressing this serious gap and the terrible consequences it has had on maintaining the vulnerability and disadvantage of Rwandan genocide survivors.
Because of the British government’s continued support for Rwandan genocide survivors through the funding and programming of the Department for International Development Britain has an important potential role to play in calling for and supporting the creation of a voluntary UN Trust Fund for Survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
United Nations agencies such as UNICEF and UNDP, development organisations such as Oxfam and Save the Children, and bilateral and multilateral aid agencies such as the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development, and other agencies working in Rwanda can also advocate for a UN Trust Fund and contribute to it. Immediately, they should make greater efforts to respect the UN General Assembly resolutions calling for targeted support for Rwandan genocide survivors to enable their self – sufficiency.
Survivors need the assistance, support, and advocacy of a diverse coalition to stand with them in solidarity and create a mechanism to realise their human rights and reduce their vulnerability.
A UN Trust Fund is one important way we can begin to transform disadvantage to empowerment, well being, and grounded hope for the future.