- The 1994 Rwanda genocide continues to kill silently, ten years after the slaughter. Today, thousands of women and girls are living through the nightmare of HIV/AIDS after being raped during the genocide. As the genocide's anniversary is to be marked tomorrow, several groups demand free medical aid for Rwanda's still surviving female victims.
In the worst slaughter in African history, almost one million people were killed during some 100 days in Rwanda in 1994. The number of genocide victims is however even larger than that. According to UNICEF, some 95,000 children were orphaned during the genocide. The UN also estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 rapes were committed during the genocide.
Rape was part of the genocidal plan of the Hutu extremists in 1994. Mass rape was meant to change the ethnic balance in the country and it was to cause systematic degradation of Rwanda's women. This degradation was made even more systematic by forcing some women to parade naked or perform various humiliating acts at the bidding of extremist soldiers and militia.
Ten years after the actual genocide, the late effects of the extremists' mass rape action are clear. Hundreds of thousands of women were traumatised. In addition, many women raped during 1994 now suffer the reality of living with sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS with little hope of legal recourse, medical care or compensation.
Also Rwanda's children bear scars from the genocide. Virtually all of Rwandan children witnessed unspeakable horror during 1994. According to UNICEF, "thousands of children were victims of brutality and rape," and almost 100,000 were orphaned. Today's children and youth are traumatised, impoverished and many have been infected with HIV.
Today, UN agencies and international organisations are calling for increased aid to help the women and children of Rwanda. UNICEF today appealed for increased efforts to "help a generation of Rwandan children reclaim their lives." The UN agency is assisting an estimated 101,000 children that are heading approximately 42,000 households.
The human rights group Amnesty International today urged Rwandan authorities "to face up to the challenge of providing redress to survivors of rape and other victims of the genocide and crimes against humanity." The group claims that women genocide survivors "have been denied effective medical care, testing for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and psychological counselling."
- On the legal front, these women require both justice and the passage of the long-overdue genocide victim compensation law, Amnesty said in a letter to President Paul Kagame today. The group holds the Rwandan President needed to "address more fully the medical and legal issues" faced by these women.
Also the London-based humanitarian group Survivors Fund (Surf) today called on the Kigali government "to support these women by providing free antiretroviral treatment." The group also announced it was launching a fundraising appeal. "These women can't afford medication and are facing a drawn-out death sentence," commented Surf Director Mary Kayitesi Blewitt.
- Mothers are now dying and children are becoming orphaned for a second time, added Ms Blewitt. "The international community now has a second chance to save them by providing appropriate antiretroviral treatment," she said, indicating that it could not only be the responsibility of Rwandan authorities to provide the country's genocide survivors with life-saving medicines.
Ms Blewitt argued that providing antiretrovirals indeed would be among the most effective development aid that Rwanda could receive. "Providing medication will not only save lives but is vital for the economic regeneration of Rwanda itself. By becoming healthy, women can return to work and therefore provide for their dependents," she argued.
According to Ms Blewitt, there are upwards of ten thousand women and young girls who require urgent help and access to medication. They are all the late victims of the 1994 genocide, which still is achieving its horrifying aim of systematically killing innocent Rwandans.
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