Finding Strength in Testimony – An Interview with Edith Umugiraneza

This is the dress that I wore for three months during the genocide.  My mother gave me this scarf and said, "If anything happens  to us, you will have this."

This is the dress that I wore for three months during the genocide. My mother gave me this African wrap because it was the rainy season at the time.  She also gave me a necklace and said, “If they kill me, have this in remembrance of me.” – Edith Umugiraneza

April 2014 Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month:
Remembering the Past toward Healing our Future

A six event commemorative film series featuring the stories of survivors and their children

Living Ubuntu, in collaboration with Amnesty International – Irvine and six local academic institutions, presents a six-event commemorative film series featuring the stories of survivors and their children. April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, and each film commemorates a genocide that started during April. Living Ubuntu provides education about global traumas as part of its mission to heal trauma in order to promote peace. All films are free and open to the public.

Below is an interview with Edith Umugiraneza, a Rwandan genocide survivor who will be a featured speaker at the Rwanda genocide event.

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An Interview with Edith Umugiraneza

Birth Place:  Kigali, Nyarugenge, Rwanda
Occupation: Indexer for USC Shoah Foundation
Degree: B.A. in Social Work from Laval University, Quebec, Canada


Q:  What was your life like before the genocide?

A:  I was 17 years old when the genocide started.  Before that, life was good.  I was a high school student with six siblings.  My mother was a widow.  We had a normal life.  I was the youngest.

Q:  Prior to the genocide did you have many Hutu friends?  Did you notice divisions between the two populations?

A:  No.  And yes, when we were in elementary school they used to ask us which group we belonged to.  Each year they would ask this to find out who people were.  They were practicing segregation to choose who would go to public and private schools.  The Hutus were chosen to go to public schools. The Tutsis would be sent to private schools, and many of them didn’t have money to afford the tuition so they didn’t go to school at all.  Before the genocide, in the political parties, we could see people being jailed because of who they were.

Q:  What is the first thing you remember about the start of the genocide? Read more of this post

Who Is… Samantha Power?

Samantha Power addresses reporters on evidence of Syrian chemical weapons attacks collected by U.N. investigators.-photo by: Stan Honda

Personal Background and Education

Ambassador Power was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated to the U.S. with her family at the age of nine.  She holds a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.  Power’s first profession was that of field journalist.  She covered the Yugoslav Wars and reported from Rwanda and Sudan.  Power was later the Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government from 1998 to 2002.  Here, she also became the Ann Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy.  She is married to Cass Sunstein, and they have two children.

Professional Experience

On August 2nd, 2013, Dr. Samantha Power became the acting U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN (she replaced Susan Elizabeth Rice as the nominee in June) and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet.  Dr. Power’s previous posts under the Obama administration include Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council from 2009 to 2013.  During this time she also directed the fledgeling Atrocities Prevention Board. In these positions, Power directed efforts toward UN reform, advocated for LGBT and women’s rights,  addressed human trafficking and the safeguarding of religious minorities.

Now, in case you are feeling a bit winded just from reading a resume (I know I am), there is a reason why Power’s work, and resulting appointment as U.N. Ambassador, is so crucial to organizations like Living Ubuntu and the victimized and oppressed around the globe… her unwavering commitment to human rights, specifically in the Middle East, North Africa, Sudan and Burma.

Read more of this post

Urgent Time to Act

A child in a North Darfur refugee camp (radiodabanga)

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN

“Our concerns are heightened by clashes reported yesterday between the national armies of Sudan and South Sudan in Lake Jau and other border areas,” Melissa Fleming, Spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Over the past three days, new bomb attacks paralyze strategic areas of Sudan. Antonov planes dropped more than 40 bombs on the villages of Dika, Bain, Keda, Jok and Senagarai in North Darfur. Meanwhile, ground troops in six tanks and 150 vehicles moved in to the villages beating male residents, looting and burning houses. The soldiers also reportedly raped more than 30 women and girls and arrested ten of the men.

In addition, Unity State Minister of Information Gideon Gatpan said Sudan dropped at least three bombs near oil fields in the town of Bentiu. The bombings come one day after Sudan and South Sudan clashed in the disputed border town of Jau, prompting Sudan to cancel President Omar al-Bashir’s trip to meet with South Sudan President Salva Kiir next week.

Making the humanitarian crisis more pressing and horrific is the refugee situation as thousands of displaced Sudanese face mass starvation and chronic water shortages.

“It took 17 days to walk here. We were facing hunger on the way, and that’s how other people starved to death, and with the rains, a lot of people lost their lives from pneumonia. The water here is not enough… People end up fighting at the water point.” Hamid Yussef Bashir, one of around 37,000 refugees in Jamam camp in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.

There is an urgent need to relocate fleeing refugees in order to avoid civilian casualties “among a population that has already endured a great deal of trauma,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In total, more than 105,000 Sudanese refugees forced to flee from attacks in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have ended up in South Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia.

When will signed peace treaties equate to zero civilian deaths and human rights abuses?

Children wash copper on at an open-air mine in Kamatanda in the rich mining province of Katanga. Forced by poverty;hundreds of children leave school to work at the mine. (Gwenn Dubourthoumieu , AFP/Getty Images)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Is corporate accountability possible? Human-rights groups, led by the Canadian Association Against Impunity (CAAI) and survivors of a massacre in the Katanga province of Democratic Republic of Congo have turned to the Supreme Court of Canada to sue a Canadian mining company on behalf of the victims of a massacre in Congo. Congolese families are seeking to appeal the Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss a human rights case against the Canadian corporation Anvil Mining Limited. The company is alleged with providing logistical support including planes, trucks and drivers to Congolese troops who massacred over 100 unarmed civilians in Katanga province in 2004. The port was key to the operation of a copper mine, the exit point for $500,000 worth of copper and silver every day.

“My father has not lived to see justice delivered,” said Dickay Kunda (whose father, a policeman, was badly beaten and tortured while in military custody). His 22-year-old sister Dorcas also died after being raped by soldiers. “But after more than seven years, we now look to the Supreme Court of Canada for justice,” he added.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, advocates say the ruling could set a precedent for whether corporations can be held accountable for their involvement in human rights violations committed abroad. However a 2010 UN report says that “the Kilwa case demonstrates the difficulty in proving the legal responsibility of private companies in the perpetration of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.”

We, as responsible consumers have the voice and power to urge corporate accountability. We can do this by putting pressure and seeking justice on corporations who greedily make profit from exploiting populations and committing human rights abuses and also we can commit to buying conflict-free products.

BURMA

As we await Burma’s elections on April 1, the Burmese government has allowed the United Nations to ship a second round of humanitarian aid to rebel-controlled areas in northern Kachin state. It is only the second time the government has let international aid to enter areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization.

But unfortunately, the aid doesn’t come close to addressing the needs of tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Kachin. Aye Win, a U.N. spokesman in Rangoon, says the aid is not enough. He says there are at least 50,000 people displaced and in need of sustained help.

The UN has grown slightly more verbose over the matter, requesting that aid deliveries be continued well into the future (OCHA says food insecurity could last until the end of 2013). I urge that there needs to be a sustained commitment to humanitarian assistance to the 60,000 people in Kachin.

Darfur War is “Over”?

According to a United Nations military commander, the war between Darfur and the Sudanese government has ended -

Banditry, localized issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level. But real war as such, I think we are over that.

Great news right? Not so fast.

I agree with Sudan analyst Gill Lusk in that, even if the war is “over”, the people of Darfur continue to be overwhelmed with other obstacles. The local issues mentioned by the military commander are very real and debilitating – and also include hardships such as a lack of food, shelter, and medical aid.

In the words of Lusk -

There has been a large decline in fighting in Darfur, and that is undoubtedly a good thing for the people…But it is the government that turns the tap on and off – they can restart the violence whenever they want.

So yes, the military commander’s words should make us happy, but do they mean we should close the chapter on Darfur? Absolutely not.

The R2P Debate

The United Nations General Assembly recently debated the concept of “R2P” or the “responsibility to protect” – which describes “a nation-state’s duty to support and defend its population” to prevent atrocities such as genocide and ethnic cleansing from occurring.

The consensus is that there are three pillars supporting the idea of R2P -

  1. Responsibility of nation-states to protect their own people
  2. Responsibility of the international community to assist sovereign states in need
  3. Responsibility of the UN to use collective force when a nation-state fails to protect its own people.

Click here to read a great article discussing the R2P principle and the controversy that the third pillar often creates when it comes to current issues such as Darfur and the Congo.

Darfur – Only “Remnants of Genocide”

What we see is the remnants of genocide.

Those words were spoken today by US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration whose recent trip to Darfur did not convince him that a genocide is TAKING place – only that a genocide TOOK place.

Gration also remarked that the humanitarian gap caused by Sudan’s expulsion of major aid groups in March has been “essentially closed”.

Perhaps Gration is simply trying to exhibit optimism. Perhaps he’s out to improve the image of Sudan.

Whatever the reason behind his words today, I’m left confused.

Just two days ago, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called Darfur a present “genocide”. Less than two weeks ago, the man who appointed Gration, US President Barack Obama, referred to Darfur as a “genocide that’s taking place”.

How can people working together lack consensus on something like this? Yes, Darfur was a genocide in 2003. It was a genocide in 2006. And it is a genocide today. The means of carrying out the genocide may have changed but the motive is the same.

Rape – A Weapon of War

Today, an expert spoke with several US senators about a common weapon of war.

No, that weapon was not guns nor was it bombs. It was rape.

Rape is far too often used as a means of bringing down the enemy during a war – as is the case currently in Darfur and the Congo (DRC).

1100 rapes are reported in the Congo every month – that’s 36 women and girls victimized each day! And just think about the number of incidents that go unreported.

According to the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues -

Rape is employed as a weapon because it is effective…it destroys the fabric of society from within and does so more efficiently than do guns or bombs…the apparent purpose is to leave a lasting and inerasable signal to others that the woman has been violated.

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice plans to travel to Africa to discuss the issue of rape in war-torn societies – an issue referred to as a “shame on the human race” by California senator Barbara Boxer.

Also today – the US was elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Let’s hope we make the most of it.

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