Responsibility to Protect
The Satya Interview with Grace
Photo courtesy of Oxfam International
This past September, 151 heads of state from around
the world convened in New York for the UN Summit to assess the progress
of the Millennium
Declaration and discuss major reforms in the UN. Many critics have
been disappointed with the outcome of the summit, feeling there wasn’t
the necessary political backing for poverty reduction commitments.
However, marking the UN’s 60th anniversary and in accordance with its original
charter to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” a
few positive outcomes came from these meetings, namely the establishment of a
new peace building commission and the acceptance of collective responsibility
to protect civilians against genocide and other crimes against humanity. This
agreement means that governments can no longer use sovereignty and non-intervention
to avoid protecting civilians from mass killings.
This outcome was particularly positive for Grace Mukagabiro, a genocide survivor
who traveled from Rwanda to New York for the summit. As a program coordinator
for Oxfam International, Mukagabiro works with three communities in Rwanda on
conflict management, community building and poverty reduction. She traveled to
New York to share her personal experience, hoping that world leaders will agree
and act upon their responsibility to protect civilians and not stand by as they
did in 1994 when nearly one million people died over the course of 100 days in
During the UN Summit in September, Grace Mukagabiro talked with Sangamithra
Iyerabout her experience during the Rwandan genocide, her hopes for the UN, and Rwanda
You have traveled to New York this week for the UN Summit. What are your hopes
for this summit?
My hope for the summit is that all the leaders in the world will sign this agreement
about responsibility to protect civilians. During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda,
people were dying while the world was watching. Even the UN mission in Rwanda
did not protect those people. That is why I am here to request that the leaders
agree to their responsibility to protect civilians in the world from genocide
and all crimes against humanity.
Would you be willing to share with our readers your personal story during the
I am a survivor of genocide. It was on April 7, 1994 when the government of Rwanda
ordered the massacre of people because of ethnicity. The genocide started in
Kigali and moved to other places day by day. My husband and I were both teachers
in a small town called Nyanza. The war reached this town on April 24. They started
to burn houses and destroy everything of people who were Tutsi. We fled from
Nyanza to the village of my husband, but the genocide had already started happening
there. On May 8, my husband was murdered by the armed militias. At the same time,
his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other people in his family were also
killed. My name was on the list for the next day, and I was supposed to be killed
with my children on May 9. On that night, I was very scared and escaped from
that village. I was with my three children, the oldest four years, second three
years, and the last was 11 months, and I was pregnant. I was also with two small
children whose parents were already killed. I walked 18 kilometers back to Nyanza
with my children and the two others—five very small children. When we arrived,
there were two sisters from the other ethnicity who agreed to hide us in their
home. After one week, the Rwandan Patriotic Army reached the town and the killers
ran away. This is how we survived the genocide.
How are your children now?
Now they are okay. But of course there are problems to be without their father
and to know that he was killed badly. He was beheaded. The children know how
their father and other members of our family were killed. But they are okay.
The two oldest are in high school; the others are in primary school now.
Can you talk about Rwanda today?
In the country, 11 years after genocide, there are many changes. The government
has done a lot to help people start to live again. The first thing they did just
after the genocide, was avoid revenge. They said that no one can revenge his
family. After that, they tried to create some structures and commissions, like
the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. This commission worked very
well and has helped people to live together in a good relationship. Their approach
is training people to work together and talk about their problems. There is also
an approach for poverty reduction. When people from different ethnic groups work
together, there is more trust between them. They trust each other and help each
other. Those who were involved in genocide are free to talk and ask pardons and
survivors of genocide are able to forgive.
There is also the gacaca, the traditional justice system where people sit together
in their village and try to talk about their problems and decide on how to punish
or to forgive. They decide what to do with those people involved in genocide.
It is a good process and works well in the country. People feel free in their
village. It helps them to understand each other and respect each other.
We also have good governance, good centralization. There are many things that
have been done by the government, the ministry of gender, and women’s organizations
who are working with widows, orphans and traumatized people.
You can say that we are living in peace now.
One thing that struck me when I was in Rwanda this summer was that nobody used
ethnic identities anymore. Have the terms Hutu and Tutsi been eliminated?
There is no more ethnicity in our identity cards. We are all the same. We are
There have also been so many memorials created in Rwanda.
There are different memorial sites in the country. Each year in April, we remember.
We visit the memorials, try to understand what happened during the genocide and
think about how to not let it happen again.
Can you talk about your work with Oxfam and what some of your programs in Rwanda
Oxfam is doing peace building and development projects in Umatara, Ruhengeri
and Gitarama. We try to identify conflict, poverty level, and different needs
in the communities where we work. After the baseline study, we train men and
women, literate and illiterate, on conflict management. We also work with former
soldiers and help reintegrate them into the community. After the training we
give them grants. They try to make projects and those projects help them to work
together. When they work together, they trust each other and they use their decision-making
to resolve the conflicts among them. This also creates a relationship between
community and leaders.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hope for the future is that genocide does not happen again. I hope that the
leaders will take seriously their responsibility to protect innocent civilians.
Instead of discussing why people are dying, they will take quick collective action
to stop the war or the genocide. If they have to discuss, they can discuss after.
This agreement signed by those world leaders gives me hope.
It is a good document that can prevent other conflicts if the leaders will be
When I was in Rwanda I was very impressed by the people and their ability to
live together. It is a beautiful country and it is inspiring to see it so stable
Thank you. The problem was bad governance, bad leaders. It was not a problem
with the community. There is an improvement in our country. The government has
done a lot after the genocide. Kagame is a good president, a very good man.
Rwanda is a country of mountains and there are many beautiful places. And there
is no violence. No violence. You can walk in the night and no one will hurt you.
To learn more about Oxfam’s programs in Rwanda visit www.oxfam.org.uk.