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Rwandan human rights situation improves significantly

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afrol News, 1 April - The Rwandan generally is praised for the progress in the country's human rights situation in UN Special Rapporteur Michel Moussalli's report, although much still remained. A representative of Rwanda admitted, "that not all is perfect", but over the last three years human rights had improved notably and "where small problems remain, solutions are being sought."

On Friday, UN Special Rapporteurs gave summations of the human rights situation in various countries, including Rwanda, as the UN Commission on Human Rights held its annual debate on the question of the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms anywhere in the world.

Michel Moussalli, Special Representative on the human-rights situation in Rwanda, said among other things that a highly positive development had been the signing of a technical cooperation agreement between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Rwandan National Commission on Human Rights, but that to date the national Commission had yet to be perceived by the population and civil society as an independent and efficient human rights institution.

The recently published update by Michel Moussalli highlights new developments in Rwanda, and states that the country "is undergoing enormous changes at the moment in several important areas: decentralization and the transition to democracy, plans to draw up a new Constitution, overhauling of the justice system, the promotion of a culture of human rights, unity and reconciliation." 

The report notes that given the still recent conflict and persisting divisions, these are all "extremely courageous steps." According to the report, the government is "walking a tightrope and will require the continued support of the donor community and of civil society in order to move forward."

Michel Moussalli commented said the number of detainees in Rwanda continued to decline thanks to an increase in the number of trials, resulting in the release of 5,000 detainees last year. "However, almost 110,000 people were still held in prisons and detention centres." 

Another positive development had been the release of children who were less than 14 at the time of their incarceration, said Moussalli. "On the whole, more than 400 minors were released in December 2000." The Special Rapporteur denounced, however, the inhumane situation reigning in detention centres and prisons, where detainees were piled up one on the other, with some dying of hunger or fatigue. 

- The plight of women and children remained a matter of serious concern, since they were the main victims of the tragic consequences of the genocide, said Moussalli. A positive development was the adoption of two laws aimed at better protection of women and children. In addition, a Committee on the rights of the child had been set up.

The Special Representative said that despite these considerable efforts, one sensed the underlying fear that continued to haunt the Rwandan people. That was why absolute priority had to be given to the establishment of a climate of confidence and security in the country that would enable all Rwandan citizens to resume life without fear of the morrow.

Rwandan representative to the debate, Jean de Dieu Mucyo, praised the work of Moussalli, which since 1997 annually reported annually on Rwanda, for its "professionalism, competence and transparency." Mucyo maintained that, "in the last three years, human rights have improved notably. Of course, not all is perfect, but where small problems remain, solutions are being sought. Rwanda does not see any need to extend the mandate of the Special Representative," which Moussalli had asked for.

- Rwanda has annually taken into account the recommendations of the Commission and it requests the Commission take into account the recent positive developments in the country, Mucyo said. "Repeated systematic violations no longer exist. Rwanda is committed to democracy and human rights."

Underlining the positive human rights development in Rwanda are the news of increasing numbers of returning refugees. A total of 5,240 refugees returned to Rwanda in the first ten weeks of 2001. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Additionally, over 60,000 refugees returned to Rwanda between January 1999 and December 2000.

According to a government statement, "the large number of refugee returns is evidence of peace, security and the rule of law in Rwanda. The democratization programme, initiatives in the area of unity and reconciliation and steady economic recovery have created a new feeling of optimism in the country. Refugees feel free to return to Rwanda without fear of persecution or harassment." 

Rwandan President Paul Kagame earlier this month stated "the promotion and respect of human rights are essential for the unity and reconciliation of the Rwandese people and communities after the terrible events of their modern history, and that this will always remain Rwanda's fundamental concern."

Sources: UNHCHR, Rwandan govt. and afrol archives

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