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  • Written by Sally Hayden

Old media reports deprive Rwandan genocide survivors of the right to be forgotten

 

Audience at the main Rwandan genocide commemoration event at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali on the 7th of April, 2014. Photo: Sally Hayden.

One of the biggest challenges following the Rwandan genocide was getting it classified as such. As the international community faltered and fiddled and failed to appreciate what was happening, Rwandans shouted their experiences through shrouds of shock, grateful to anyone would listen and believe that such horror was possible.

Now with each anniversary those stories and images reappear throughout the media. And many survivors, once so grateful for a voice, have come to resent this exposure.

This issue first came to my attention in a conference in the Rwandan parliament on the weekend that this year's official period of mourning began. As questions were taken from the floor, a passionate voice piped up. “I'm not asking about what happened because I was there and I have seen it, but there is another issue now. As survivors we all wanted to tell and to say what had happened. There are at least two or three women I know pregnant from rape, they only wanted to talk. But twenty years later you still see your image coming out from BBC, CNN...” Speaking, I learn, is Odette Nyiramilimo, a physician, former government minister and current East African senator. Ethnically a Tutsi, she survived the genocide in the Hotel des Mille Collines, a scene later depicted in the film 'Hotel Rwanda'.

We meet again a few weeks later. Nyiramilimo sits in a bright, airy office, on the fourth floor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A portrait of President Paul Kagame hangs over her head. She's busy; her phone buzzes as we talk.

She tells me story after story.

The story of a girl, aged 15 during the genocide, who was taken by her parents' killers to the DRC and raped. When she escaped she was pregnant, and after she gave birth to a son she handed him to relatives to raise so she could attend university and start her life anew. She met a boy and they got engaged; then he travelled to Canada to finish his schooling. There, on the TV, he saw old footage of her speaking about her rape and called her in shock. With her engagement over, the girl called Nyiramilimo asking “what do I do? I don't want that story to be following me my whole life. Now I am well, I just finished university and I want to be normal.”

  • Written by Niamh Griffin

'Now people will be more careful when they are brutalizing our girls and our women'

 

'Through the courts we have removed a bit of the stigma attached to these crimes, the women feel supported. If this project continues, it can be an example to other countries' - Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah, Consultant Master and Registrar of the Sierra Leone Judiciary. Photo: Niamh Griffin.It’s early on Saturday in Freetown, Sierra Leone but the courthouse is slowly waking up.

A truck rattles through the large gates, carrying prisoners linked to sexual assault cases. Here ‘Saturday Courts’ hear rape and assault cases in a programme partially funded by Ireland through the UN.

Almost 2,000 cases were recorded in the country’s three rape crisis centres during 2012 alone, so the courts serve a vital function in reassuring girls and women that justice can be done.

UN legal officer Rakel Larsen takes me through the quiet corridors. Funding covers weekend salaries but doesn’t stretch to electricity for the silent fans or even lights.

She says the courts, which were set up in 2011, are slowly changing attitudes:

‘It can be a challenge. The Saturday Courts provides a protective, victim-friendly environment, but it can be busy with family members. I think people didn’t come forward before. Now the women’s groups make a lot of noise. And there is a lot of funding, a lot of support.”

She adds: “We don’t have specific case-processing time statistics but we are working on data. You hear of cases waiting seven years to be heard, but gender-based-violence cases don’t wait. Rapes are also heard during the week”.

  • Written by Niamh Griffin

Sierra Leone a good fit for Ireland

Midwife Annie Mafinda, with toys in the counselling room at the Freetown 'Rainbo' rape crisis centre. Photo: Niamh Griffin.Sierra Leone is now one of Ireland’s partner countries under the Irish Aid development programme, a match less surprising than you might think as the two small coastal nations have much in common.

The West African country was riven by a decade of civil war funded by the sale of so-called ‘blood diamonds’. But almost 12 years on from that conflict, an air of optimism is tangible in Freetown’s muddy streets.

In the beachside capital, the Irish flag flies over a walled compound, down an earth-covered road. It’s dwarfed by the nearby British embassy but work done here is injecting a steady drip of progress behind the scenes in the areas of justice and food-security.

Dubliner Sinead Walsh supervises various programmes - mainly on nutrition  and gender issues - from the Irish Aid office, which was upgraded to Embassy status in January.

Ms Walsh works with the Sierra Leone government and in partnership with other NGOs.

She said: ‘The country after the war was destroyed. I was here in 2005 before I moved here in 2011, it’s remarkable the changes even since then.

‘Most of our programmes are about women, and rights. It’s an area that was neglected for a long time, even in Ireland. About 50% of girls by 18 here have either given birth or are pregnant, it’s a huge problem and something the government here is taking on.’

  • Written by World and Media

Irish Aid programme cuts Malaria death rate in Malawi by 95%

Launch of Reducing Hunger, Strengthening Resilience: Irish Aid Annual Report 2012, 12 September 2013. Photo: Irish Aid.Last month, World and Media reported that an Irish Aid supported hospital partnership was associated with an 86 per cent reduction in maternal mortality and a 50 percent drop in stillbirths and early neonatal deaths in the Omdurman Maternity Hospital in Sudan. Today (September 12), the Government’s programme for overseas development, Irish Aid, published its annual report with some even more striking evidence for its effectiveness:

  • Ethiopia: Almost 7 million people protected from hunger in 2012 through an Irish Aid supported programme, which provides cash or food in exchange for work to improve agriculture and protect the environment.
  • Malawi: In Malawi, following the distribution of 263,000 bednets, suspected deaths from malaria among children under 5 have reduced by 95% since 2010.
  • Mozambique: 71% of girls aged 6 in Mozambique are now enrolled in school. This is up from 58% in 2005.
  • Tanzania: Since 2001, the area of agricultural land under irrigation has almost doubled (up from 200,000 hectares to 399,000 hectares), contributing to reduced hunger and increased economic opportunity for families.
  • Vietnam: Two-thirds reduction in rates of mothers dying in childbirth between 1990 and 2009.
  • Zambia: 400,000 people have access to clean and safe drinking water and sanitation facilities thanks to Irish Aid’s programme in Northern Province.
  • Ethiopia: The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 56% in 2000 to 39% in 2012.
  • Written by IRIN ks/rz

Northern Namibia: where there used to be grass, there is now little more than dust

Riondjovi Mupia and her three children moved to an informal settlement on the outskirts of Opuwo in north-western Namibia four months ago after the drought dried up the vegetable patch she relied on for an income. Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN.[OPUWO] The arid hills of Namibia’s northwestern Kunene Region make for a harsh environment at the best of times. With agriculture limited by the region’s dry, sandy soil, most of the local population rely on livestock farming, leading a semi-nomadic existence dictated by the search for fresh pasture for their cattle and goats. But following two years of failed rains, pasture is almost non-existent; where there used to be grass, there is now little more than dust.

“The drought is killing everything,” said Teemuime Mbendura, who lives in a Himba homestead, about one hour’s drive north of the regional capital, Opuwo. 

The Ovahimba have largely managed to maintain their traditional way of life in northern Namibia, including the women’s practice of applying a mixture of animal fat and ochre to their skin and hair to achieve a distinctive reddish hue. But increasingly erratic rains - which are expected to grow even more variable in the future, according to climate change predictions - are threatening the sustainability of their pastoral existence. 

Mbendura does not know her age - “Maybe a thousand years,” she says - but she is certain this is the first time in her life that the rains have failed for two consecutive years. “The old men used to consult the ancestors to ask for rain, but now there are no old men left at the homestead, and the younger ones don’t do this,” she told IRIN. 

The younger men are noticeably absent from the homestead, which consists of huts encircled by a makeshift fence. Most have taken their cattle to distant patches of pasture in an effort to keep them alive.

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