Over 200 youth and youth representatives convened to discuss and debate on the case of human rights in Rwanda. The discussions clearly at moments got heated, but in all cases, they were educative and informative.
The occasion is part of the celebrations of the Human Rights Day on December 10th as organized by local Non Government Organization Never Again Rwanda (NAR) and its partners.
According to NAR, organizing the celebrations in form of a youth conference was informed by the need to make human rights everyone’s issue, in which everyone in Rwanda contributes.
That is so because the role that human rights observation plays in the realization of development goals cannot be over emphasized, and as so youths depended on to serve as the vehicle for the sustainability of a human rights respect culture in Rwanda.
With participation from all four provinces of Rwanda and the City of Kigali, the Embassy of the United States of America in Rwanda, Government of Rwanda institutions, Never Again Rwanda affiliated youth clubs, human rights and peace building organizations and development partners, the celebrations discussed Rwanda’s journey in the last 20 years with regards to human rights observation, prevailing challenges and plausible solutions.
In his opening remarks, US Ambassador to Rwanda Donald Koran recalled that ”Twenty years ago Rwanda experienced the evil of genocide born by the denial of the truth that all men and women are created equal, birthed by a rejection of the rights of all Rwandans to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
20 years after the genocide, Never Again Rwanda says there have been commendable strides made towards the respect of Universal Human Rights as indicated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adding however that there is still room for consolidating the achievements and improving.
Among others, Rwanda has managed to create accountable governance systems that withhold from discrimination, established a decentralized system that facilitates the general populace’s participation in the nation’s political life, and is pushing for equitable wealth distribution through strategies such as the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies (EDPRS).
For instance through various projects implemented in EDPRS phase one, over a million Rwandans were lifted from below the poverty line over a period of five year from 2007.
Besides, efforts towards effective democratization of governance through platforms such as the annual National Dialogue (Umushyikirano) where matters of national concern are discussed jointly between the led and the leaders have been on the rise in post-genocide Rwanda, all of which are indications of improved human rights observation in the country.
However as Mr. Koran observed, the struggle is a continuous one, which can only be won if participation is garnered from all the worlds’ human inhabitants.
“In the United States for instance, we are still wrestling with the legacy of racism and in recent years we have recognized the terrible discrimination faced by marginalized groups, including the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities,” which he says correlates with Rwanda’s own struggle to ending social discrimination, divisionism and the genocidal ideology.
“We are in this Journey together and we can learn much from each other therefore, it’s in this spirit that you are all gathered here today, to discuss debate and generate ideas. We are proud of these efforts and hope they will be useful in empowering and advancing the spirit of constructive discussion.”
Mr. Koran implored the youth and others present at the celebrations to “Be honest about the challenges faced by individuals and communities, and be devoted to solving them so as to have everyone’s rights safeguarded.”
At the celebrations, NAR’s Executive Director Eric Uwitonze shared that the NGO “believes in a world where people treat each other with respect and dignity through education and meaningful discussions, hence the basis for organizing the conference”.
Knowing rights, the basis for observing and protecting them
To facilitate the process of civic education towards the observation of human rights, NAR initiated the Youth for Human Rights project to build leadership and advocacy skills of young Rwandans towards improved understanding of the concept of human rights, and observation thereof.
The project targets to build a pool of resourceful people empowered to promote the culture of observing human rights in all communities across the country.
Currently, the project engages over 7700 Rwandan youth from different schools as well as the non-schooling youth associations into human rights training workshops, essay competitions, monthly youth discussion forums, youth authored articles, human rights conferences, debates and radio talk shows.
The day was celebrated under the theme “Promoting a sustainable human rights culture in Rwanda; challenges and opportunities.”
Mutuyimana Jean Damascene
This event is very important especially for the youth because we learnt a lot about human rights recognition. There were especially numerous reminders on our rights and of those of others within our communities.
However I think we should be having such days of convening and discussing more often with experts going to schools and other platforms around the country to discuss human rights in order to increase information flow on the topic which is prerequisite to achieving the observation of human rights.
The celebrations were more than required but I beseech the organizers to think about decentralizing such occasions such that more people can participate and improve their understanding of human rights.
Through the discussions and the documentary projections, I discovered a lot about the condition of human rights observation in my country; where we are doing well and where more efforts are required. This gives me more courage and information to base on while I preach human rights to my colleagues back home.
During the discussions, I discovered that the main challenge against the fight for human rights observation is that most violations go unreported as a result of lack of ample knowledge on ones rights harbored by many people especially in rural areas.
Thus as youth, supporting the sensitization of communities on their rights and encouraging victims of violations to report them to relevant authorities is key in improving the observation of human rights in Rwanda.