Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 22:24:56 -0500 (CDT)
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Marking The 1994 Genocide Anniversary
By Chris Simpson, 2 April 1999
KIGALI, Apr 2 (IPS) - Rwanda headed into a week of national mourning on the back of first-time elections and the promise of a broader democratisation at a later stage.
The fifth anniversary of the genocide of 1994 is being marked by a series of vigils, public meetings and commemorative events, all culminating in a ceremony at Kibeho in the south-western region of Gikongoro, where the mortal remains of hundreds of genocide victims will be reburied.
All flags are being flown at half-mast for the duration of the mourning period, while the population is being urged to reflect deeply on what happened five years ago (between April 1994 and June 1994) and look at ways and means of preventing any repetition.
Last year, the week of mourning came amidst a wave of attacks by Interahamwe militias. The Interahamwe (those who fight together in Kinyarwanda language) slaughtered up to one million people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, in Rwanda in 1994.
This year, the week of mourning has been preceded by countrywide elections, the first of their kind, with thousands of "cells", picking executive committees, which in turn have voted in representatives to run "individual sectors".
The voting took place using a "queuing system", voters lining up behind individual candidates who were nominated on the day. No party affiliations were allowed, with the government emphasising the need to avoid "sectarian rivalries".
Two tiers of local government have now been chosen rather than imposed. But the administrative units involved are modest: each cell has at most several hundred residents, each sector has a few thousand.
The next obvious move is to move the democratic process up to the level of Rwanda's 155 communes, which are currently administered by nominated mayors or bourgmestres, and then to the 12 prefectures.
But there is no timetable for any future elections, with the government talking about a period of stock-taking.
Meanwhile, those local officials selected at cell and sector level are to undergo a training programme under government supervision, with coaching on administrative techniques and lessons on history and politics.
According to the Rwandan Patriotic Front's Secretary-General, Charles Murigande, "many of the new officials have never exercised any responsibility, so we have to give them the basics".
The official view from Kigali is that the elections were a success. Formally announced only a week beforehand, with no prior campaigning allowed, they were described by officials as an "experiment in democracy", with a relentless emphasis on "transparency", "accountability" and "good governance".
Prior to polling day, Protais Musoni, Secretary-General in the Ministry of Local Government, said he was confident that in a new Rwanda "Tutsis will vote for Hutus and Hutus will vote for Tutsis", administrative competence being the only criterion on which candidates should be judged.
Genocide-related issues did surface at the polls. In Taba in the central region of Gitarama, voters made it clear that a clean record from 1994 was a vital precondition for any candidate being chosen.
But local officials and military commanders warned reporters not to ask questions about the events of 1994 and the role of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the then bourgmeister who was subsequently given a life sentence by the UN International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, after being convicted for crimes of genocide.
"You are here to monitor elections. Leave Akayesu for another day", the local brigade commander warned.
But with the elections out of the way, the focus switches again to the events of five years ago.
The recent report issued by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights, "Leave None to Tell the Story", offers an 800-page account of the genocide, tracing its political and historical origins, while pointing the finger at France, the US, Belgium and the UN amongst other culprits for "failing to heed the warnings of coming disaster and refusing to recognise the genocide when it began".
The report provides a detailed, chilling account of how the killings were planned months in advance.
It dismisses the cheap, stereotyped accounts of the genocide as an "uncontrollable outburst of rage by a people consumed by tribal violence", characterising it instead as "the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power".
The main emphasis is on the perpetrators of the genocide and how their actions provoked such little response from the international community.
But the ruling Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which fought a bush war from 1990 to 1994, is also taken to task for serious human rights violations in 1994.
The report's authors argue that thousands of Hutus were killed indiscriminately and that the "patterns of abuse were known to and tolerated by the highest levels of command".
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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