Justine Mbabazi, Rule of Law Expert, Rwanda.
Beatrice Mukabaranga, Member, Senate of Rwanda.
Rose Mukantabana, National Coordinator, Women's Legal Rights Initiative, a Project of USAID.
Connie Bwiza Sekamana, Chamber of Deputies, Parliament of Rwanda.
Geraldine Umugwaneza, Former Counselor, National Service of Gacaca Courts; Former Rwanda Supreme Court Judge.
Richard McCall, Moderator, Senior Vice President for Programs, Creative Associates International, Inc.
This event was cosponsored with The Initiative for Inclusive Security.
The delegation of Rwandan women addressed the need for judicial reform in post-conflict Rwanda. Eleven years after the genocide, Rwanda is struggling to open its society to democratic ideals and judicial reform. As part of the reform process, the panelists advocated for the expansion of the role of women in leadership and decision-making positions within both the public and private sectors. In addition, they encouraged the development of mechanisms to combat gender-specific discrimination and inequality.
Justine Mbabazi, selected by the Forum for Rwandese Women Parliamentarians (FRRP) to draft the first gender-based violence legislation in Rwanda, discussed the need for genocide victim reparations. She explained that the Rwandan government has focused on initiatives to punish the perpetrators of the genocide without sufficiently addressing the needs of the victims. She argued that punishing the perpetrators does not solve the inherent societal issues that underlay the violence; reparations are necessary to recognize and appease past injustice. Mbabazi proposed the government develop a legal framework for an official reparations fund from which to support victims. Ideally, this fund would provide medical care for over 500,000 women and children who were raped and infected with HIV/AIDS during and since the genocide. Mbabazi suggested that the same fundraising techniques that funded the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) be used to create the reparations fund.
Beatrice Mukabaranga highlighted the lack of women's representation in the professional and technical sectors of Rwandan society. While women occupy 49 percent of the seats in Parliament and 33 percent of executive positions, more funding, training, education, and advocacy for affirmative action is needed for women to compete in all sectors of society. She argued that since women comprise over half of the Rwandan population, it is imperative that they be allowed to be equal, productive members of society. Mukabaranga recommended that increased attention be paid to capacity-building; developing evaluation methodology to assess state progress in achieving equity; and accountability practices for all political parties, civil society, and the public and private sectors.
Connie Bwiza Sekamana identified the need to educate women of their legal rights and to hold male judges accountable within the Rwandan legal system. She noted that most women, especially poor women, are neither educated on their rights under the law, nor do they know the avenues of assistance available to them when faced with discrimination or violence. She emphasized the fact that most Rwandan women distrust the court system, especially male judges, due to male marginalization of rape cases and the existence of rampant sexual discrimination within the system. Consequently, Sekamana proposed widespread educational efforts for women, and increased levels of accountability, monitored by regular evaluations, in the judicial system.
Rose Mukantabana further emphasized the need to increase the availability of education to women, noting that the judicial system recruits the most highly educated individuals, most of whom are men who have greater access to educational opportunities than women. Therefore, equal representation within the judiciary can only be achieved through expanding educational opportunities for women.
Geraldine Umugwaneza refocused the discussion on the immense challenges facing judicial reform in a country emerging from state failure. She emphasized the complexity of persecuting perpetrators within the context of genocide, noting that judges had to struggle to define which actions constituted genocide amidst the mass of physical and psychological abuses that were used to inflict harm. Umugwaneza encouraged patience and greater understanding for the magnitude of the efforts being undertaken.
Ultimately, panelists reiterated the need for judicial system reform in Rwanda. They noted that current Gacaca practices face severe resource limitations; moreover, there is widespread ignorance of constitutional law. Increased education concerning the constitution and the judicial system will prove essential in redefining the role of women in the new Rwanda. Already, laws concerning a women's right to inherit land are changing in response to the high number of female headed households that are the consequence of the genocide. However, concern was expressed over the recent reduction in size of the Ministry of Gender and its new location within the Prime Minister's Office. Some see the absence of an independent ministry as a an indication of the secondary importance attached to gender issues within the Rwandan government; others, however, see its link to the Prime Minister's Office as evidence of the institutionalization of gender considerations at the highest levels of the government.
Drafted by Stephanie Robinson and Georgina Petrosky