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Rwanda: Rebuilding a country

By Cecilia Locmant, ICFTU Online, 23 November 1999

Brussels, November 23, 1999 (ICFTU OnLine): Before becoming a trade unionist, young Rwandan Sylvestre Nyilinkwaya worked for a year for UNICEF. He was part of a team of lawyers sent out by the international organisation to defend women and children in conflict with the law. He explains how, with just his salary to live on, he, like several other colleagues, had to wait several months to be paid. In its report, Human Rights Watch also refers to this type of difficulty in order to explain the constant "failures" of the Arusha International Tribunal. Sylvestre Nylinkwaya: "After the massacres, the army picked up everyone wandering around on the streets and put them into prison, with no distinction of age. My work was to meet these prisoners, to identify them, and try to place the children, who at times were no older than seven, in reeducation centres. Two or three months before the end of my contract, things began to go wrong. The salaries of my colleagues and myself were no longer paid, for no apparent reason. I had to wait 5 months after the end of my contract to receive my fees, and all my representations to UNICEF were of no avail. The new justice minister was blocking the dossier, and I never received any explanation for these delays." Today, Sylvestre Nyilinkwaya, now the deputy secretary of the CESTRAR’s judicial staff trade union, and also in charge of the ICFTU young people’s campaign (see page??). ) for ORAF, is much more optimistic about his country’s future. His trade union regularly meets with young people in the reeducation centres. For him, these young people express their desire to rebuild. In the particular context of Rwanda, CESTRAR has therefore made defending the youngest workers one of its priorities. Another young CESTRAR trade unionist, Dominique Habiyaremye, explains : "Many children work today in Rwanda. After the war, they have become heads of families or live alone in the street. There are 50,000 such children in Kigali. Right now there is no political structure to prevent their being exploited. In our trade union, when we were consulted by the transition assembly as part of the revision of the labour code, we pleaded that the minimum working age be set at 14 and not 13. We are also trying to press the government to introduce teaching programmes. As part of the campaign, finally, we have training activities in each prefecture. Everything is still embryonic, but the young people here want to rebuild what has been destroyed."