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Tuesday, February 25, 2020
José Domingo Guariglia interviews ODETTE KAYIRERE , Executive Secretary of AVEGA Agahozo
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2011 (IPS) - The year 1994 was marked by blood. Between April and June, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days, in a terrible genocide that followed the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and the explosion of racial tensions between the country’s two major ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis.
Odette Kayirere was one of the thousands of women who lost their husbands during the genocide. She helped to create AVEGA Agahozo, a non-profit organisation launched in 1995 with 50 members to help Rwandan genocide survivors to rebuild their lives. “AVEGA” is an acronym for the French name “Association des Veuves du Genocide” (Genocide Widows Association) while “Agahozo” means “consolation”.
Today, AVEGA Agahozo has reached more than 20,000 people and 71,000 dependents and orphans with five different centres across Rwanda. But even as they have tried to help survivors by promoting welfare, education and medical services, for Kayirere, now executive secretary of the organisation, there is still a long road ahead in the quest for justice and reparations.
“African countries should come together and conjugate more efforts to see how they can address this issue. Many criminals are still wandering (free) in many countries and some countries seem to be unconcerned. They ignore that these people constitute a threat for Africans and the entire world in general,” Kayirere told IPS from Kigali, Rwanda.
In June, 16 years after its creation, AVEGA Agahozo won the prestigious 500,000-dollar Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights 2011. According to the foundation’s president, Patricia Gruber, they have “improved life for all of Rwanda and set an example for the rest of the world”. The award ceremony will take place in New York on Sep. 26.
Q: What does it mean for AVEGA Agahozo to have won the Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights? A: Words failed to express what we felt after winning this prize. We are very proud and it was unexpected. We did not compete or do any application to win. According to external eyes, AVEGA’s work has been effective and constructive. In addition, it is very interesting to see genocide victims taking the initiative to help their fellow genocide survivors.
There is no shadow of doubt: our service in favour of widows and their orphans in Rwanda is not in vain. This money will be invested in income-generating activities for our members to fight poverty.
We are still struggling to help widows regain hope for life and ameliorate their living conditions and knowledge through education, sensitisation and provision of social, economic and health support. Moreover, trauma remains a persistent problem.
Q: How has the organisation changed Rwandan widows’ and children’s lives? A: AVEGA has put in place different departments. Those are advocacy, justice and information, which is in charge of providing legal assistance to beneficiaries who are in need.
The psycho-medical department provides help to beneficiaries who have physical and psychological disabilities. Three health centres were built and are open to our beneficiaries and the public. Many of them have trauma-related problems.
Others are the capacity-building department and the social-economic department, which help our beneficiaries to do income-generating activities. We have made many changes in the lives of widows and orphans.
Q: In Rwanda, women were systematically raped by HIV- infected men and this led to a whole generation of HIV-positive widows. How are you treating these cases? A: It is the widows and orphans who witnessed the atrocities and, in many cases, suffered extreme violence themselves. Sexual violence was often used to humiliate and degrade women during the 100 days of the violent scourge, with estimates of the number of women raped ranging between 250,000 and 500,000. Traumatised and shamed, many of these women are seeking help now only because they are ill.
For these women, AVEGA is a refuge, providing medical services, psychological counselling, education and training, housing and legal services.
AVEGA offers medical help to those suffering from AIDS and has coordinated voluntary testing for HIV for more than 10,000 of its members. It also delivers antiretroviral treatment and wrap-around care and treatment, including nutrition support, to more than 1,500 HIV positive women.
Q: Are you satisfied with the African actions to arrest and extradite Rwandan genocide fugitives? A: Taking into account that genocide is an international crime, African countries should come together and conjugate more efforts to see how they can address this issue. Many criminals are still wandering in many countries and some countries seem to be unconcerned. They ignore that these people constitute a threat for Africans and the entire world in general. Therefore they should take initiative together to actively participate in arresting genocide fugitives and judge them.
Q: Do you think the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has been effective? A: In the beginning, the ICTR was very slow. Few trials were judged but in the last few years, there was an improvement. They also participated in identifying those who committed genocide.
We appreciated the decision of judging genocide crimes within the country because the money spent on the expenditures pertaining to trial procedures is too much; instead it would be spent to assist genocide survivors who are still undergoing genocide consequences.
Q: Do you think the new special body set up by the U.N. Security Council for the Rwandan genocide that will start on Jul. 1, 2012 could help to speed up the investigation? A: This is a good idea as this new organ will have a specific task to achieve within a specific period of time. This organ will be composed by judges assigned to accomplish their responsibilities. Our wish is that those who committed genocide crimes would be preferably judged in Rwanda than elsewhere.
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